Continuity of Operations Program encourages organizations and businesses to plan ahead

Continuity of Operations Program encourages organizations and businesses to plan ahead

  • This is the cover of the Arizona Continuity of Operations Planning Program.
Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs launches first phase of updated Arizona Continuity of Operations (COOP) Program

Power outages, floods, and other unexpected emergencies can bring businesses and organizations to a halt. Depending on the services the organization provides, a disruption has the potential of putting the health and safety of communities in jeopardy. However, planning ahead of time can help businesses and organizations meet the needs of their customers during emergencies.

On Jan. 4, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) launched the first phase of the updated Arizona Continuity Program. The mission of the Continuity of Operations (COOP) program is to improve the State of Arizona Agencies’ preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities from all-hazard emergencies.

Hollie Smith, DEMA Continuity and Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) Coordinator, developed and maintains the Continuity Program. Smith describes COOP as a plan that allows you to continue your business no matter what.

COOP planning is focused contingency planning that supports an organization's strategic plan and the delivery of essential services or functions during disruptions caused by small and catastrophic events.

Under Executive Order 2013-06, state agencies are required to have a COOP plan. The Executive Order also allows DEMA to develop and manage a Continuity Program aimed at guiding and assisting state agencies in their continuity planning efforts. 

“As government agencies, we have to do business no matter what because we have customers, citizens, and tax payers that rely on us to be able to do our jobs even if the power is out,” says Smith.

The COOP program is a 130-page document that helps entities identify important continuity information. This information is used to build a plan that addresses an organization’s unique needs. The program includes tools and resources to help planners classify essential functions and personnel, and create back up plans for logistics, communications, and business operations.

For example, if a disaster disrupts an organization’s communications, the plan can include information regarding a back up system that details additional phone, radio and internet services. It can also include emergency contacts and methods to communicate with staff, vendors, and stakeholders.

Smith emphasizes that knowing your business and operations is the backbone to creating a continuity plan. “You have to know what you do on a daily basis and, if a disruption happens, how to fix or mitigate against those disruptions,” states Smith. “Part of this is having knowledge, but the biggest thing about doing a Continuity of Operations Plan is documenting that knowledge.”

During an emergency, heightened stress can make it difficult for organizational leaders and members to recollect what steps to respond to the disruption. The COOP Plan Template, included in the COOP Program, contains questions and reminders that help organizations remember important steps in the plan.

The template is a helpful resource that reminds organization’s of the information “we need to think about during a disruption that we may not think about on a daily basis.” 

Once a plan is created, the COOP process is still not over. Smith refers to the COOP cycle, as she highlights the need for practicing, testing, and exercising an organization’s plan.

“Once you have a plan you need to make sure it works for you,” shares Smith. COOP plans are meant to put into practice and require exercising and training in order to identify areas that can be modified.

After exercising the COOP plan, organizations can complete after action reports to note strengths in the plan and areas for improvement. DEMA Planning Branch staff support local, county, state and tribal partners during the planning and evaluation of their COOP plans.

“We’ve been very lucky in Arizona where continuity plans have not been enacted very often,” says Smith. Though the state does not experience the same frequency of disasters as other states, preparing a COOP plan gives organizations the tools needed to continue services during an emergency.

Smith reminds us that the COOP Program involves a community-centered approach and serves all organizations. “The program is a Whole Community program. We didn’t write this program just for government agencies. Any organization can use this. Nongovernment organizations can use this template as well.”

The next phase that will be developed in the COOP Program is the continuity of government section. This section will address the specific planning needs to continue government.

Smith recounts how rewarding the process of building a program aimed at serving organizations in Arizona is. “This isn’t building a plan, putting it on the shelf and letting it sit. This is building an entire program that then changes the culture for everybody because continuity is day to day.” 


To view the DEMA News episode on this story, click here