No one can predict the future – or how external events and conditions will affect an organization’s ability to continue operations. But there is a way that any business or organization can prepare for events beyond their control, which is especially important in the public safety industry when lives depend on response times. Using a “what if” process, organizations can develop contingency plans to identify unexpected scenarios – such as earthquakes, fires, violence, or others – and develop a plan on how they will respond to each before it occurs and disrupts essential services.
Public safety agencies are, unfortunately, not immune to emergencies that affect their overall operations. From natural weather events to long-term challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies can be directly affected like any other facility, which ultimately affects the partner agencies and communities they serve. When the safety of your fellow first responders – and the community – matters most, backup and contingency continuity plans are a must-have before crisis strikes.
Continuity of operations, in a simple form, means planning for the worst while preparing to move to secondary operations capabilities. The purpose of any contingency plan is to allow an organization to return to its standard operations as quickly as possible after an unforeseen event.
In your agency, consider what resources are needed to ensure the continuity of operations. This may include:
- Number of staffing required to manage the needed response for a given situation
- Backup systems to deploy (i.e. radio, telephone, etc.)
- Involvement of support personnel necessary to repair impacted systems
- Means of notification to Public/Agency Information Officer
I was working as a 911 telecommunicator in New York the evening a large and severe thunderstorm rolled through our region. The forecast called for torrential rain, high winds, and lightning. Call volumes typically increase with any weather event, but the torrential rains associated with this line of thunderstorms caused a larger-than-normal increase due to flooding conditions.
Our staff was mitigating several emergencies when the building took a direct lightning strike – resulting in the center instantly losing some of its radio and phone equipment functionality. Although this was the first lightning strike that our center ever experienced, an earlier strike several years before at another center nearby meant we were fortunate to have backup and contingency plans already in place.
For us, these included:
- Notification to command staff
- Recall of technical services and administrative staff
- Activation of necessary portions of emergency operations plan
- Activation of the backup communications center
- Recall of operations staff using scheduling and emergency notification systems
As a result of our preparedness, we were able to switch to our backup equipment and procedures in order to minimize disruption and continue our operations – something we would not have been able to do without a clear plan of action. Although this was a very long and stressful shift for 911, knowing how to react in this particular emergency made the transition seamless – and helped avoid even greater emergencies out in the community.
When a critical situation affects your agency, it’s imperative to have a chain of command in place to activate contingency plans. A functional contingency plan protects resources, minimizes disruptions while identifying key staff, and assigns specific responsibilities in the context of the crisis to ensure an efficient recovery.