It should be the policy of every public organization to have in place a comprehensive and effective program to ensure continuity of essential functions under any circumstances. As a baseline of preparedness for the full range of potential emergencies, all public sector organizations should have in place a viable Continuity of Operations (COOP) capability which ensures the performance of their essential functions during any emergency or situation that may disrupt normal operations (Federal Protection Circular 65, 1999). Given such an overarching challenge COOP planning is a must for public sector organizations to ensure they can provide needed services for the citizens who depend on them in an emergency. There are several objectives to any COOP plan, which include:
- Test the alert, notification, and activation system.
- Perform selected essential functions from an alternate site.
- Access vital files and databases from an alternate site.
- Communicate effectively from an alternate site.
- Receive, process and analyze, and disseminate information.
- Validate support systems for 24-hour operations.
In a March 2008 article in the Government Computer News (National Continuity) it stated that “COOP (Continuity of Operations) planning is the disciplined planning you do in advance to respond to a natural or man-made emergency. If your agency/office needs to relocate your COOP is your coordinated, efficient action to keep operating” (Telework, 2008). Some tasks that public sector organizations will have to provide to allow them to operate and assist the public include:
- Providing for the safety and well-being of employees
- Providing administrative and facilities management and support services
- Providing travel and transportation services
- Identifying all affected real and personal property
- Providing mail and courier delivery services
- Coordinating facility repair and operations
- Acquiring space and facilities
This plan will allow a public organization to continue its work with little or no disruption in service; however, it takes a lot of work to do well. For example at the national level “continuity planning also requires coordination with state, local, tribal, and territorial government as well as the private sector” (Telework, 2008). Planning is required with private sector organizations “because the private sector owns the vast majority of the nation’s infrastructure, we have a nation that is a “system of systems” that is incredibly integrated (Telework, 2008). This planning must also include information technology where “Networks must connect. Applications must be streamed. Computer screens must look familiar. Security must be maintained at all costs and Government business must continue” (Telework, 2008).
There is a lot of guidance from the Federal Government that can be used in the planning process. Federal Protection Circular Number 65 “includes plans and procedures that delineate essential functions; specify succession of office and an emergency delegation of authority; provide for the safe keeping of vital records and databases; identify alternate operating facilities; provide for interoperable communications and validate the capability through tests, training, and exercise” (Telework, 2008). This circular requires the following:
- Identify succession for senior members of the organization
- Delegate full authority in order of succession.
- Identify alternate facility or facilities for critical personnel
- Demonstrate a general level of understanding of the COOP process among employees
- Train employees as to their individual roles (if any) regardless of the organization’s level of involvement during a COOP activity
- Direct employees to involve themselves in and support COOP activities to the fullest extent possible, to include training scenarios
- Maintain vital records and databases in electronic form at a backup location to meet operational responsibilities following the activation of a COOP.
There is also Federal Continuity Directive Number 1 (FCD#1), which “provides direction to the Federal Executive Branch for developing continuity plans and programs. What FCD#1 says is that it is just not good practice to plan to have continuity planning, it is mandatory practice” (Telework, 2008).
In addition, there is Federal Continuity Directive Number 2 (FCD#2), which “implements the requirements of FDC#1 and provides guidance and direction for identification of MEFs [Mission Essential Functions] and potential PMEFs [Primary Mission Essential Functions]. It includes guidance and checklists to assist departments and agencies in assessing their essential functions through a risk management process and in identifying potential PMEFs that support the National Essential Functions (NEFs)” (Telework, 2008).
Teleworking (employees working from an alternate site or home using telephone and computer) is one element of planning that must be considered. Teleworking can allow public sector employees to work from home or an alternate location when a public sector facility is damaged, cannot be reached, or is in the path of an impending disaster. Standards and guidance must be in place prior to any emergency to ensure employees have the equipment necessary to perform their work. This means “To support the technology components critical for telework translates into spending precious dollars in areas such as web-based applications, BlackBerry devices, laptops, and remote email access, which allow for increased telework at low incremental cost” (Telework, 2008). Richard Walker also noted in a Federal Computer Week article that telework “For the most part, this means creating the capability for employees to work from home or other remote locations and having an information technology infrastructure that is robust enough to support remote access to vital agency computer systems” (OPM, 2008). In that same article Walker noted that “The Nexus between COOP and telework has become increasingly important in recent years, underscored and reinforced by high-magnitude events such as the 2001 terrorist attacks and hurricane Katrina” (OPM, 2008).
The Office of Personnel Management is the proponent for personnel policy for the Federal Government. In their publication Federal Manager’s/Decision Makers Emergency Guide key steps to facilitate telework include:
- Develop a cadre of regularly scheduled “core” teleworkers.
- Permit teleworkers to experience working off site and learning to communicate electronically with colleagues and clients by doing it regularly.
- Permit supervisors and managers to experience managing employees without face-to-face contact.
(Federal Managers, 2008)
There are always security concerns involved with moving an organization to an alternate site when responding to an emergency. Specifically public administrators experience a great deal of concern over the security of the information technology equipment and transmissions. In his article for Federal Computer Week Alan Joch tells us that “The right mix isn’t purely technical. With the right selection of hardware and software, agencies can ensure that established security policies remain in effect during an emergency” (How Secure, 2008). Alan Joch recommends using a class of technology known as network access controllers to vet remote machines, two–factor authentications for access, data encryption technologies [for data encryption], and virtual private networks [for secure access] (How Secure, 2008).
In addition security planners must also consider the physical security of any alternate site. It is essential that planners conduct risk assessments of possible alternate sites so that risks can be considered along with other criteria to determine the best fit. These risk assessments should identify the potential security weaknesses of a facility. Effort should then be expended to reduce some of the risks for selected facilities. A good example is that many public buildings now are using “stand-off” to reduce the impact of a blast on the building. A second example is the installation of blast windows that can withstand an explosion. Planning officials must make sure that any alternate facility includes “stand-off” and blast protective windows when selecting an alternate site.
This essay has touched on a variety of topics that all deal with public organizations putting in place a comprehensive and effective program to ensure continuity of essential functions under all circumstances. The topics of planning, telework, and security were each explored. To ensure that public organizations can respond in an emergency it is essential that all aspects of the response be planned for. Without this planning it will be very difficult if not impossible for a public organization to respond and if the response is weak the voters can and should bring new public servants into office to do a better job.
– COOP: The telework connection, by Richard W. Walker, Federal Computer Week, June 16, 2008.
– Federal Manager’s/Decision Maker’s Emergency Guide, Office of Personnel Management, US Government. Retrieved on September 30, 2008 from https://www.opm.gov/emergency/PDF/ManagersGuide.pdf.
– Federal Protection Circular 65, July 26, 1999. Retrieved on September 30, 2008 from http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/pdd/fpc-65.htm.
– How Secure is your COOP, by Alan Joch, Federal Computer Week, June 23, 2008.
– National Continuity, Government Computer News, March 31, 2008.
– OPM’s Best Practices for COOP, by Richard W. Walker, Federal Computer Week, June 16, 2008.
– Telework Is Taking Off, Government Computer News, March 31, 2008.