Innovation

Who is really essential?

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

employed?

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 organization’s 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.

Let’s 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 system’s 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

proposed a 400-million-dollar investment in pandemic flu and disaster

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

but true.

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, don’t be afraid to ask the $100,000 question: Is

there anything we do that is so important that it can’t 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!

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