As we approach the many threats that populate the contemporary landscape, every business needs a Continuity of Operations (COOP) plan.  The various parts of the Government (Federal, State, Local, Tribal) working on this, but are mixed in this area.  Most businesses are abysmal.  If our company doesn’t have a COOP plan, you are failing them.

This is not just about terrorism, although that is clearly an issue, but about pandemics, floods, hurricanes, fires, and industrial accidents.  Any of these things can adversely affect your ability to conduct business in the way you normally do it.  To ensure you are ready, you need a COOP plan, you need to teach it, you need to exercise it, and you need to keep it updated.

Here are some key components.  The company must look at the possible threats, and see what applies (use your imagination, and think worst case); from that analysis, you can begin to plan.  Next you must decide how you chose to address a COOP situation.  Will you establish alternative sites (one or several), or will you try to have your workforce operate remotely (from home or their own alternatives).  Social distancing is a key issue, and one you can practice by telecommuting.  Next, you need a plan for information distribution and accountability.  This is not optional, and if you do not have it now, you are well behind the power curve.  Given the plethora or communications means even small firms now have available, there is no excuse for failing to get the word out, and for not keeping track of your people.

You must define what you consider essential functions for your business, and what essential / vital records are.  These will be the first things which you must “backup” within our COOP planning  Will you have a “mirror site” to which your electronic information and support functions will shift in an emergency, or will the boss pick up a cardboard box as he departs?  How are the families of your work force addressed?  Do you simply tell your folks to handle it, or is there a uniform policy?

Once you have figured all these thorny issue into a plan, you have to publish it, and conduct classes on how to use all the various components.  This must have support and emphasis from the highest levels of the organization.  After everyone is trained, it must be exercised.  This goes well beyond discussions, to actually moving and operating under COOP like conditions.  It is only in that way will you find flaws in the plan.

COOP is a grossly over looked area.  At best it gets lip service from most organizations.  Even post – 9/11, and post KATRINA, we all prefer to assume it “will never happen to us”.  That is a poor assumption.  If you don’t know how to plan for COOP, get help, but you need to do it now.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More