“What we anticipate
seldom occurs: but what we least expect generally happens.”
– Benjamin Disraeli
I attended a meeting on pandemic influenza preparedness yesterday. In discussing the topic with some of the neighbor island civil defense people, they suggested the most efficient way of creating a plan was to take what you alreay have and modify it as needed.
In creating a continuity of operation plan (COOP), it is important to realize that there is no way
to anticipate every type of disaster. Even if you could, it would be
impossible to create an infinite number of individual plans to address
Yet, we cannot just sit here and do nothing. Disasters will occur and people who depend on your
services will expect you to be operating when they need you.
So it seems to me that the only practical way to prepare is to have a general plan that can be easily
modified. That is, instead of coming up with various scenarios and creating a plan for
each, create modules that can be pulled “off the shelf”, as
needed, and put together to create a customized plan that is keyed to
Think of it as a parts store for your car. They don’t keep all the parts for your specific car in
one place. Rather, they keep all the headlights for all makes in one place,
all the radiators for all makes in one place, all the brake lights for
all makes in one place, etc. Then, depending on the need, they go to
the appropriate shelf to get the required parts.
Another way to think of it is like a menu. You go into the restaurant and, depending on what you want
and what it has, you choose. Likewise, depending on the situation, you
choose which modules you need.
I realize that there are downsides to this method (there always are, regardless of what you do).
Continuing the parts store example, it would be impractical to have
every part for every vehicle ever built. Doing so would require too
much space and too much money tied up in inventory that may never be
Of course, parts stores don’t have to keep that many parts because some items fit more than one make
or model. For example, a 15-inch tire will usually fit a 15-in rim, regardless of whether the rim is made by Toyota or
Similarly, trying to have a specific module for every type of disaster would not be practical.
So what type of modules am I talking about?
In June 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
updated their COOP objectives. Some of them are listed below:
- Know and insure the continuous performance of an agency’s essential functions or operations.
- Execute, as required, successful succession to office and delegation of authority.
- Insure that agencies have alternative facilities from which to perform their essential functions.
- Protect essential facilities, equipment, records, and other assets.
- Insure and validate COOP readiness through testing, training, and exercise programs.
Take, for example, the objective of having alternative facilities. Regardless of the cause,
there are at least three things that we need to do in this example:
acquire, prepare, and move to alternative facilities.
By breaking each of these three things into the common ways (e.g.,
acquiring a facility can only be done by leasing; buying; or much less
likely, taking by eminent domain) of doing each, you can prepare a
module that is flexible enough to respond to almost any cause.
Not all modules may require sub-modules. On the other hand, some may
require many. But the key is keeping the focus on the objectives, not
the almost infinite number of possible causes of a disaster. I suggest
one way to do that is to keep the general plan and modules flexible so
that they can be altered as the situation requires. YMMV. Insert disclaimer here.