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With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound: Even more emergency management!

As much as I keep promising myself that I’ll poke at something more varied, the news of the day keeps turning back in the direction of emergency preparedness, in this case, just a little bit more on the subject of continuity of operations planning (COOP).

Late last week, our friends in Chicago proffered the latest (#41) in their series of Quick Safety (QS) tips, which focuses on elements of preparedness relating to COOPs (nobody here but us chickens). Within the QS tip (small pun intended), our Chicagoan overlords indicate that “continuity of operations planning has emerged as one of the issues that…need to address better in order to be more resilient during and after the occurrence of disasters and emergencies.” The QS also indicates a couple of best practice focus areas for COOPs:

  • Continuity of facilities and communications to support organizational functions.
  • A succession plan that lists who replaces the key leader(s) during an emergency if the leader is not available to carry out his or her duties.
  • A delegation of authority plan that describes the decisions and policies that can be implemented by authorized successors.

Now, I will freely admit that I always thought that this could be accomplished by adopting a scalable incident command structure, with appropriate monitoring of critical functions, inclusive of contact information for folks, etc. And, to be honest, I’m not really sure that having to re-jigger what you already have into something that’s easy for surveyors to discern at the 30,000-foot survey level is going to make each organization better prepared. I do know that folks have been cited for not having COOPs, particularly as a function of succession planning and delegation of authority (again, a properly structured HICS should get you most of the way there). So, I guess my advice for today is to figure out what pieces of your current EOP represent the COOP requirements and highlight them within the document (I really, really, really don’t want you to have to extract that stuff and create a standalone COOP, but if that helps you present the materials, then I guess that’s what you’d have to do…but I really don’t like that we’ve gotten to this point). At any rate, the QS has lots of info, some of it potentially useful, so please check it out here.

As a closing thought: I know folks are working really diligently towards getting an active shooter drill on the books, with varying degrees of progress. As I was perusing various media offerings, I saw an article outlining the potential downsides of active shooter-type drills. While the piece is aimed at the school environment, I think it’s kind of an interesting perspective as it relates to the practical impact of planning and conducting these types of exercises. It’s a pretty quick read and may generate some good discussion in your “house.”

Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air: Thoughts on succession planning and other EManations

Lately, as I field questions from folks regarding potential survey vulnerabilities relating to emergency management, I keep coming back to the importance of succession planning. And, interestingly enough, I’ve found that succession planning can have a very big impact on other processes in the physical environment.

Certainly, the most critical aspect of succession planning revolves around insuring that you have sufficient numbers of prepared competent incident command staff—in this age of frequent shifts in organizational leadership, etc., you can hit some really lean times when it comes to having appropriately knowledgeable folks in the bunker with you during emergency response activities. And with this recent spate of emergency response activations lasting days instead of hours and weeks instead of days, you really need to have enough bench strength to move folks in and out of roles, getting them a little downtime, etc. I think it is only natural(ly unnatural) to rely on a fairly finite cadre of individuals who you know can “bring it,” regardless of what’s going on, but I think the challenge as we move forward is to expand on those core folks and move towards access to incident command staff across all shifts. If you think of it in terms of a basic continuity of operations plan (after all, you need folks to be able to continue operations), a seamless philosophy, etc., would seem the best strategy. And, to that end, I have a question for you folks out there in radioland—do you have a standardized approach to providing education to your incident command folks? Is it the basic FEMA and associated stuff? Or have you found something else? I’d be really keen to hear what you’re doing to ensure reasonable competence, etc., in your response activities.

Another way in which succession planning can have an impact on general compliance are those instances in which critical processes are “owned” by one individual in an organization. And when that individual takes time off, or even leaves the organization, sometimes the stuff they were doing falls through the cracks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into instances when eyewash checks, fire pump tests, preventive maintenance for equipment, etc., went undone because the person responsible didn’t (or wasn’t able to) make a handoff. As you can probably figure out, surveyors are not going to look too kindly upon these kinds of gaps and with the threshold for findings being at such a low point, you really only need a couple of “drops” before you’re looking at survey troubles. I would imagine that those of you with work order systems can engineer a failsafe into the process so if someone is off, it’s easy to discern that the activity needs to be reassigned. But what if you pay to send someone to school to learn how to maintain a certain piece (or pieces) of equipment and that individual leaves the organization and you (potentially) without a service contract for the equipment in question because you brought it “in house”? These are all real life examples of how the best laid plans of facilities/safety professionals can go astray. Specialized knowledge and skill is rather a premium at the moment and you want to be sure you have processes in place that will withstand attrition (in all its glories).

Next week, I want to talk a little bit about how folks are managing construction projects. You know me: I never miss an opportunity for some ponderings…