It looks like such a benign statement: Please identify the essential personnel in your
organization/department/unit. This is usually one of the first tasks in any
continuity of operations plan (COOP). However, getting people to agree on who
is essential (as well as your essential functions) is anything but benign. The
first pass at something like this has nearly everyone in the organization being
listed as essential. After all, if they were not essential, why are they
Needless to say, this can be a daunting task. However, it
can and does get even more difficult when your COOP must be useful not for just
a few days or weeks, but several months at a time. This is exactly what you
have to plan for when adjusting your COOP for a pandemic flu event.
With such a long period to account for, the issue of identifying
your organizations essential functions and personnel becomes magnified–particularly
so, in government. Why? Many governmental organizations exist to manage
processes that may be suspended during times of crisis.
Lets take education as an example. There are some who argue
that if a pandemic flu event occurs, then social distancing becomes a top
priority; thus, any functions that require people to gather should be suspended.
This leads some to say that in a pandemic flu event, all schools will be
closed. If that is the case, who becomes essential personnel? Teachers?
Probably not. Custodians? Doubtful. Principals? Possibly. Superintendents?
Likely. Administrative staff? Some.
As you can see, this list is probably quite different than
the list in a school systems typical COOP.
The same can be applied to a body/organization which
regulates an activity that a governor or mayor may deem non-essential during a
flu event. After all, if the majority of the population is staying at home, are
parking attendants essential personnel?
This can be a hard pill to swallow for many, as it might
make it seem that their job or organization is not important. Furthermore, this
may prevent them from creating a realistic long term COOP, and that is exactly
what we do not want to happen.
Therefore, as one begins this type of planning, it is
important to stress that the planning is being done for an extreme
circumstance, not normal life. Few will argue that education of our youth
is not important, but for a limited amount of time and for the sake of health
and safety, it may be that education is considered non essential.
Getting your organization in this frame of mind when doing
COOP for an extended period is extremely important. The consequences of not
doing so end up being a COOP that is not based on the reality of that kind of
situation, and/or the squandering of precious resources that in actuality will
never be used. A few days ago, California
preparedness–by far the largest amount any state in the U.S. has devoted to
the cause, health experts have said.
How much of that money will be used to purchase remote
access capabilities for personnel who will never need it? See my point? On the
other hand, some organizations will see this as a one-time source of funding
and will try to make a strong case in order to acquire systems/capabilities they
could never afford before, thus eating away at dollars better spent elsewhere. Sad
The moral of this story is that when doing a COOP for a
pandemic flu or similar event, the organization as a whole needs to take a real
hard look at itself in the mirror and realize that what they see may not be to
their liking in regards to importance in a time of crisis. So as many of you
begin this planning process, dont be afraid to ask the $100,000 question: Is
there anything we do that is so important that it cant be suspended for a three
or four month period of time without causing severe consequences to the
population we serve? The answers to that question will lead you to your essential
functions. The essential personnel will fall out from there. Good Luck!