Continuity of Operations (COOP) planning, as you know, is a federal initiative that encourages organizations to plan to address how critical operations will continue under a broad range of circumstances. These circumstances can include everything from natural disasters to human-caused disruptions such as workplace violence. They can also vary dramatically in their duration, i.e., a few hours to several days, often resulting in the relocation of personnel and resources to an alternate facility. As such, a COOP plan should address emergencies from an all-hazards approach and answer four important questions.

  1. Where could/would we go? A well-developed COOP plan should comprise all the details pertaining to the alternate facility, including the physical address (don’t forget suite numbers), building access instructions, contact information for external resources, etc. It should contain instructions for standing up the facility and name the individuals, groups, or departments responsible for doing so. As a best practice, the plan should also include directions for shutting down the alternate facility as operations return to normal.
  2. How would we communicate and what would we say? A comprehensive COOP plan should include strategies for how to communicate with key stakeholders and others in a continuity event. This may involve the use of manual call trees (though not ideal), a website/intranet, SMS/text messaging, an emergency notification system, or even social media, etc. The information or instructions shared with everyone should also be clear and concise in order to minimize the risk of error(s). Further, it is important that everyone understands in advance how an organization will communicate in a disruption so that they’re not caught off guard. 
  3. What do we do and what functions are most important? A COOP plan must outline the functions an organization performs on a daily basis and support the continuity of those that are deemed absolutely essential. Assigning priorities based upon need is the single best way to whittle the list down and make the necessary preparations to ensure their availability with minimal, if any, disruption.
  4. What things are needed to continue performing our jobs? While it may sound daunting, a good COOP plan should include an exhaustive list of the many things needed to perform essential duties, often for an extended period of time. For most, this includes items such as computer hardware, software, and office equipment (printers, copiers, scanners, phones and a fax machine) as well as vital records, checkbooks, cash, and basic office supplies. It’s always a good idea for organizations to revisit this list on a regular basis, if only twice a year, to ensure it’s complete