Continuity of Operations Planning

Continuity of Operations Program:

Moving from Recovery to Response


Continuity of operations plans (COOP) have been a standard business practice in major corporations for many years. Most newspapers develop such plans, calling them Emergency Publication Plans, and updating the plan annually. Those plans specify how the newspaper will continue to publish in the face of numerous scenarios that range from failure of equipment or loss of power to loss of the entire facility in a disaster. Daily newspapers assume that they will publish every day and contingency plans are made for emergencies. For example, if the printing press fails, an arrangement will be in place to have the paper printed at another facility – possibly a competitor’s.


In April 1997 the sister cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, were inundated by the flooding Red River, broken dikes and heavy snow runoff. The waters extended for miles and the entire city was evacuated. Then, in the midst of the flood, the Grand Forks Herald newspaper facility and ten other downtown buildings burned. Although the city remained flooded for weeks and the facility was totally destroyed, the newspaper did not miss a single day of publication. The news staff relocated to a public school in a nearby community and continued preparing a paper every day using the student computer lab. The stories were transmitted to a sister newspaper 250 miles away in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the pages were composed and the paper was printed. The newspapers were trucked to areas around Grand Forks for distribution to evacuees. Those efforts garnered the paper a Pulitzer Prize for Community Service. (Not everything was the result of a carefully made plan. The circulation database survived because an employee failed to follow the standard procedure of storing the backup tape in the basement, but left it lying on top of a file cabinet in the second-floor computer room.)


Continuity of operations should be the goal of every AT reuse program when faced with an emergency that affects the local area, and possibly the reuse program itself. In the absence of a well-formulated plan, the program may find itself unable to respond at the time of greatest need. A plan for continuity of operations positions the program to move quickly from recovery to response.


The objectives of a continuity of operations program are:

Continuation of operations during a disaster or emergency Protection of essential facilities, equipment, records and other assets Planning for leadership succession in the event that leaders are unavailable Planning for alternative facilities from which to operate Reduced injury or loss of life Timely recovery and resumption of essential services to other affected by the disaster

 A number of reuse programs confronted these challenges in the past decade as they attempted to respond to hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.


Federal agencies must have continuity of operations plans as required by Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 67, Ensuring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations. This directive established as Federal policy that the United States will have in place a comprehensive and effective program to ensure the continuity of essential government functions in the face of any “all-hazards” emergency whether caused by a disruption of vital services, a weather emergency, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. The implementation of this directive is outlined in Federal Preparedness Circular 65 and should be used by all federal agencies that fall under this plan.


The plan recommended here for AT reuse programs (not covered by federal requirements) adopts the general outline of recommendations but is not as comprehensive.


Developing a Plan for Continuity of Operations


The federal guidelines for COOP planning require that the plan must be capable of being implemented with or without warning. This means that all planning and training must be done in advance to be prepared at any time. Those guidelines also require the critical agencies must be operational within 12 hours and must be prepared to continue in the altered status for up to 30 days.


COOP Components


The continuity of operations plan should be documented and should include:

1.       Description of essential reuse activities and the resources needed to perform them

2.       Order of succession for program leadership and current roster of program personnel and functions they are capable of performing

3.       Identification and preparation of alternate operating facilities

4.       Decision process for triggering COOP

5.       Procedures for notifying personnel and relocating them to alternate facility

6.       Orientation and training in procedures at alternate location

7.       Plan for making alternate facility operational

8.       Procedures to acquire resources needed to continue operations

9.       Procedures for coordinating activities with other programs, agencies or partners

10.   Method of communicating to those in need of AT

11.   Procedures for transition from COOP status back to normal operations


Making this plan can be facilitated by using some of the attached planning forms and questionnaires.


Scenario Planning


Not included in the federal plan, but helpful, is consideration of the most likely scenarios under which a COOP would be triggered. This is the kind of “scenario planning” that newspapers undertake.  Programs should consider likely weather-related or natural disasters that might occur. This varies by region, but is perhaps the best starting point for discussion before developing the elements of the plan described above.


Is the program location in an area vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires or seasonal flooding? Does the program area include a natural risk feature such as a fault or a volcano? Is it located near a man-made high-risk feature such as a dam, a nuclear power plant or a chemical factory? How is the weather incident, natural disaster or other catastrophe likely to affect the customers served by the program? Identify the most likely emergency scenarios and determine the implications for continuity of program activities.


Essential Reuse Activities and Resources Needed


The activities that are essential must be identified. Presumably, every effort will be made to continue to provide essential AT devices. In an emergency, the need may be greater than normal. Providing AT devices may require an alternative method of acquisition if the program normally depends on donation and refurbishment. It may not be possible to continue those activities if the emergency involves significant dislocation. What are the alternative sources of inventory for devices? How can the AT be transported to the area of need? Will the program be capable of refurbishing and sanitizing in an alternate location, or must the devices arrive in usable condition? Will some of the activities be carried out in a different manner? Perhaps the program uses automated cleaning devices, but will use manual sanitization methods in an alternate location.


Who will be needed to provide the services? Identify the staff members and skills that are essential.


What tools, equipment and supplies will be needed to provide the services? Prepare a list of items that will be needed in an alternate location.


Availability of records is a key component of continuity. Are the program records (staff information, financial records, equipment inventory and customer records) backed up to an off-site location? If the records are digital, this option is easier and more affordable than ever before. Many services are available that provide on-line backup, a more reliable recovery option than hard copy. All forms used in program activities should be included in off-site backup so that they can be reproduced quickly when needed.


Staff Contact List and Order of Succession


Of critical importance is a complete list of staff (employees, contractors and volunteers) with contact information. Identify those that will be available (barring unforeseen issues) to participate in emergency operations.


Leadership is another key factor in continuity of operations. Identify who will replace leaders who may be unavailable to serve in the usual roles. The succession queue may be defined two or three levels deep. In a larger organization, the leadership succession plan may indicate titles, not names. Other key roles (even if not management) should be treated in like fashion. This includes identifying all roles each person is capable of filling by identifying skills and training.


Identification and Preparation for Alternate Operating Facility


In November 1990, a tornadic downburst raked O’Fallon, Missouri, injuring 25 and damaging 54 homes and businesses. The Datapage building was destroyed. Half of the 105 employees were part-owners of the one-year old company and they had every incentive to recover quickly. In three days they found themselves moving computers and desks into a recently vacated supermarket. The empty freezer cases were still there and signs still hung over what had once been aisles, but the enormous empty facility provided the space, lighting and power needed to continue operations and save the company.


Where can the reuse program operate on a temporary basis if its facility is not usable (due to absence of power, damage to facility, inaccessibility as a result of disaster, etc.)? It may be advisable to locate a facility out of the immediate area so that it is unlikely to have the same problem. Determine the minimum amount of space and locate options. The basic prerequisite is space that is likely to be available and that can be occupied immediately. This might be warehouse space or space that another organization is willing to share on a temporary basis. It would be helpful to find more than one alternative. Whatever the circumstance, discuss the need for continuity of operations planning and execute a Memorandum of Agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding with the individual or organization that controls the temporary space.


Create a list of tools, equipment and supplies that will be needed in the temporary location. If possible, accumulate an emergency store of supplies and pre-position in the temporary location or some other off-site location (even a staff member’s garage). Consider whether temporary furniture should be included on the list – or make an agreement with an organization that could loan temporary furniture, whether another service organization, a church or a retail outlet.


Decision Process for Triggering the Plan


Specify the circumstances under which the COOP is triggered.  How is the decision communicated to the organization? Make provisions for training staff in how to implement the plan. Create an orientation to the COOP that can be shown to all staff members.


Procedures for Notifying Personnel and Transporting Them to Alternate Location


The Contact List should include alternative contacts and methods of communication for reaching program staff. It should also indicate if special transportation alternatives are required.


Orientation and Training in Procedures at Alternate Location


Just as fire drills are practiced, the implementation of the COOP should be practiced. This involves devising a step-by-step plan for emergency operations, training staff in the implementation of the plan (including operations at an alternate location) and rehearsing the roles and activities to implement the plan.


Plan for Making Alternate Facility Operational


Create the plan for making an alternate facility operational. Combine the orientation and training to make a checklist for making an alternate location operational.


Procedures to Acquire Resources Needed


The COOP should specify where temporary furniture, equipment, supplies and AT inventory can be acquired. Some of this may be stored in alternative locations. Agreements should be in place to acquire AT inventory from other reuse programs.


Procedures for Coordinating Activities with Other Programs, Agencies or Partners


The plan should include the method of notifying other programs, agencies and partners that an alternate plan has been triggered. It should specify how the working relationship will be affected:  new contact information, alternate location, need to suspend deliveries, need for additional support, etc. Working partners need to know how the reuse program relationship and services will be affected during the period of emergency.


Method of Communicating to Those in Need of AT


During an emergency, those in need of AT may be displaced. A third-party or partner may be more involved than usual in communicating about need for reusable AT.  New needs may have arisen as a result of the emergency, and the program should become a part of the local emergency response infrastructure to have access to shelters and to participate with other agencies in the response effort.


Procedures for Transition Back to Normal Operations


The plan should specify the conditions under which the program will return to normal operations – or whether and how an alternative plan must be made permanent.




Federal Preparedness Circular 65,



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This work is supported under five-year cooperative agreement #H235V060016 awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and is administered by the Pass It On Center of the Georgia Department of Labor – Tools for Life.  However, the contents of this publication do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the Department of Education, or the Georgia Department of Labor, and the reader should not assume endorsements of this document by the Federal government or the Georgia Department of Labor.


















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Other Information

Title: Continuity of Operations Planning
Module: Emergency Mgmt
Author: Trish Redmon
Audience: Administrator
Sub Title: Moving from Recovery to Response
Procedure: Contingency planning for a disaster
Organization Source: Pass It On Center
Last Reviewed: 08-09-2010 4:49 PM