EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – July 9, 2003

Continuity of Operations Planning for Local Government
A Four-Step Approach

Dewayne West, CEM®, CCFI
Director of Emergency Services
Johnston County, North Carolina

Kent Taylor
Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer
Excelliant Services, Inc.

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and
comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See
our homepage at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is "Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) for Local Government: A Four Step Approach."

I am pleased to introduce our speakers. First, Dewayne West, CEM, CCFI, Director of Emergency Services for Johnston County, North Carolina. Dewayne is responsible for supervising the Emergency Management program, Fire Marshal's Office and Emergency Medical Services for the County. Dewayne is active in state and local professional associations and currently serves as a member of the North Carolina State Emergency Response Commission, and the Emergency Management Accreditation Commission (EMAP).

Dewayne is joined by Kent Taylor, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Excelliant Services, Inc. who are working with Johnston County on this planning project. Mr. Taylor has extensive experience in the areas of IT hardware, software and business process improvement and disaster readiness methodologies and provides leadership for Excelliant’s Business Continuity Planning and Disaster Readiness practice.

Welcome to you both, we are very pleased to have you with us today. Dewayne, I now turn the floor over to you to start us off, please.


Dewayne West: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here to discuss Continuity of Operations Planning. Continuity of Operations Planning or Continuity of Government is often referred to as COOP or COG. It is a relatively new concept for both emergency management and local government.

Kent Taylor, of Excelliant, and I will present an overview of a process for COOP. I will discuss my experience in implementing a COOP plan in Johnston County, NC. Kent and I will be glad to address questions at the end of our presentation.

Continuity of Operations (COOP) planning facilitates the performance of department or agency essential functions during any emergency or situation that may disrupt normal operations.

What is Continuity of Operations Planning? COOP addresses the recovery of critical core government operations in the event of a disruption of service. This can mean on a short-term basis having a backup capability (files, paper forms, equipment) or can be long-term due to a complete denial of service which could involve relocation to an alternative facility.

How does COOP compare to Continuity of Government (COG) or Business Continuity Planning (BCP)? Continuity of Government typically addresses the succession of leadership. Like Business Continuity Planning for businesses, COOP deals with how to keep an organization’s essential day-to-day operations functioning.

Often people think of continuity planning as the preservation of records or backup of data; however, continuity planning involves much more than paper or data, it address the resources (equipment, people, facilities) needed to continue to perform essential functions during a disaster.

Disaster can mean any event that could result in a denial of access to government facilities and/or prevent the government from providing essential services.

When we think of disaster, we typically think of weather-related disasters. Johnston County is located in Eastern North Carolina, close to the coastal plain. Due to our proximity and geography, we are prone to suffer from severe storms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Yet, we are just as susceptible to other natural and man-made disasters like fires and floods. We are a high growth area, located near I-95 and the capitol of North Carolina. We must also be prepared for the possibility of terrorism.

Disaster for a local government could come in the form of denial of service. Our increasing dependence upon the Internet and information technology tools as we continually move to a paperless government creates new and important vulnerabilities. I have been concerned for some time regarding our ability to continue operations should county government be directly impacted by a disaster. A county department or multiple departments could have a fire, flood or other event that would require them to relocate for an extended period of time. We are developing a Continuity of Operations Plan that will be a business resumption plan for the County to facilitate the performance of government services for our citizens.

Under the President's First Responder Initiative in 2002, $100 million in grant funding came available nationally to assist local governments with updating multi-hazard plans. North Carolina received $2.8 million of the $100 million, based on population. NC's Department of Crime Control and Public Safety's Division of Emergency Management provided guidelines to all the counties in NC in January. Counties could apply for the grants to update their Emergency Operations Plans and develop COOP plans.

Johnston County is receiving a grant for $37,200 to develop a Continuity of Operations Plan for the County Government and update the County's Emergency Operations Plan to ensure it addresses all hazards including terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. We are also planning on developing COOP plans for our three larger municipalities in the county: Smithfield (the county seat), Selma and Clayton, and hope to get additional grant funds to do that in the near future.

The Federal grant funding is critical for local governments. Across the state and the nation, many counties are under significant budget constraints. Allocating the funds to pay for business resumption planning is a challenge. While it should be a priority for every local government, it's tough to make it a line item on the budget when times are tight. I commend NCEM and FEMA for recognizing this and getting the funds to the local governments that need it.

According to FEMA's Introduction to State and Local EOP Planning Guidance from August 2002, COOP planning goals should include an all-hazards approach, the identification of alternate facilities, the ability to operate within 12 hours of activation, as well as sustain operations for up to 30 days.

With the demands on our Emergency Management office, we chose to contract with an outside firm to facilitate the planning process. We selected Excelliant Services to work with us. Excelliant has a track record in business continuity planning and has applied its experiences in business to local governments. We were impressed with their methodology and approach. Kent will explain more of the four-step process later in the presentation. The process results in a plan that is unique to Johnston County and how we conduct day-to-day operations.

We have received full support for the disaster readiness planning process from our County Manager, department heads and employees. We explained the process and the County's role in it and handed out 150 disaster readiness surveys for the department heads to take back to their employees to complete. Within 2 weeks we received nearly 100% participation.

These surveys gave Kent and his team a base of information to come on site to conduct further interviews to gather data on the critical infrastructure needed to support the essential functions. Kent's team interviewed nearly 60 employees representing our county departments. The interviews result in the development of the critical lists identifying the critical processes and the resources needed to perform those processes. Resources can be people, equipment, documents, facilities and vendors.

Now I will let Kent describe the process and approach.

Kent Tayor: Dewayne has described the first two steps of Excelliant's four-step process for COOP. The Excelliant Method is a disaster preparedness planning methodology that is based upon the latest business continuity planning, disaster preparedness, and project management methodologies.

Due to the complex processes and technology infrastructure of today's governments, an iterative approach of interviews and analysis is required to provide an in-depth understanding of the organization. Through the use of this iterative process, vulnerabilities and risks are drawn out, documented, and analyzed.

The four main steps are (1) Initiation, (2) Disaster Readiness Assessment (DRA), (3) Vulnerability and Risk Analysis (VRA) and (4) Disaster Readiness Planning (DRP).

Step 1, the Initiation step, sets the stage by identifying key personnel and the scope of the planning process, as Dewayne mentioned.

Step 2, the DRA, focuses on defining your critical government operations so that critical processes and resources are identified through surveys and interviews.

Next, Step 3, is the creation of Vulnerability and Risk Analysis from the information gathered during the DRA phase. The Vulnerability and Risk Analysis documents the identified vulnerabilities and risks the County may have.

The final phase, Step 4, is a Disaster Readiness Plan. This plan provides a detailed step-by-step process identifying vulnerabilities and risks and contains an action plan to guide the County in remediation.

We have a team of continuity planners working with Dewayne's staff with a lead continuity Analyst that serves as the primary contact. A continuity Planner and continuity Quality Assurance Analyst support the lead. One of Dewayne's Emergency Management Planners is what we call the "sponsor". The sponsor is responsible for presenting and gathering the feedback on the deliverables during the process. We are also training Dewayne and his staff on the process so that we are finished they can maintain the plan without having to call us. Now I will turn it back over to Dewayne.

Dewayne West: Johnston County local government is much better prepared for an emergency. The county employees who participated in this process are more aware of their roles in disaster readiness and homeland security. If you had asked them six months ago, "what would you do if you couldn't get into your office today?" I think you would have received a much different response than you would today. Now, they are aware of the resources that they would need to continue to perform their jobs in the event they couldn't get into the office.

Continuity planning is an ongoing process. We recognize that this is the first step in developing a comprehensive plan for the County. We are pleased to be one of the first counties in NC to develop a COOP plan. We also know that it is our responsibility to keep it current as we move forward.

Our future goals include exercising the plan, developing plans for the cities to have a unified plan for the County, mitigating the risks that we have found in the process and reviewing the plan at least annually.

That concludes our overview, and Kent and I will be happy to try to address your questions. For that, I will turn the session back over to our Moderator.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much, Dewayne and Kent!

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Amy Sebring: Dewayne, the kinds of operations you are seeking to plan for, are they just disaster response operations or do they extend to the delivery of normal government functions as well? Do you prioritize them?

Dewayne West: No, we are firm believers in All Hazards Planning. Therefore we try to use the same approach to COOP. We do this for all major county departments.


Hadi Husani: Kent, in what manner, if at all, have you incorporated the role of other emergency service providers in the Disaster Readiness Plan?

Kent Taylor: As Dwayne noted, we're doing a COOP plan for all major county departments. That includes other emergency providers such as police, EMS, etc.

Dewayne West: Hadi, are you referring to field operations for emergency services?

Hadi Husani: I am, yes.

Dewayne West: We have not addressed that issue beyond our normal emergency operations plan, which does provide for redundancy and mutual aid.


Teresa Chapman: Dewayne, what would you consider to be the biggest challenges to COOP planning at the County level?

Dewayne West: Getting the various players to understand the importance of the process. Once we did that, it worked quite well.


Bill Thorpe: Kent, I'm with PEMA Ops in Harrisburg. Do you use special software to build your recovery plans?

Kent Taylor: We populate an Access database with the data for a county and also utilize standard Word documents. We also provide a secure Intranet for use by the county and project team.


Bary Lusby: Have you gone so far as to identify alternate sites for the departments to move to?

Dewayne West: Yes, we have identified alternate sites for operations, however there is more work to be done in this area.


Bary Lusby: Does your county use GIS (Geographic Information System)? How do you address the hardware requirements from a remote location?

Dewayne West: Yes, we have an outstanding GIS Department. We have backup servers and redundancy in outlying county buildings. While it would be difficult, we can be back up and running in fairly short order. However, it would probably not have full capability.


Avagene Moore: Dewayne, what are the benefits of doing the COOP planning? Do you see your elected officials more engaged and more appreciative of an effort such as this?

Dewayne West: I am not sure they fully understand the importance of the process at this point. However, they have been very supportive of our efforts.


Teresa A. Chapman: Kent or Dewayne, did you use a scenario-based planning approach, and if so, what type of hazard did you base your scenario on?

Kent Taylor: We didn't specifically use a scenario-based approach. We primarily focused on the loss of a major building, etc. We would encourage scenario-based exercises as training and testing for the plan ongoing.


Avagene Moore: Kent, from your perspective in NC and other places where you are doing the COOP work - are you seeing enlightenment on the part of elected officials re: their responsibilities, etc. to the planning effort?

Kent Taylor: Yes. They are becoming more aware of their legal responsibility here.


Bary Lusby: What is the most frustrating problem that you have encountered?

Dewayne West: We really haven't experienced any major problems. Quite the contrary, we had people coming to us and asking to be a part of the process.


Isabel McCurdy: As we know elected officials are only in office for a length of term and funding is an important consideration today. How do you ensure the continuity of COOP?

Dewayne West: I envision a process similar to the upgrading of an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Through exercises, education and upgrading. It is more of a time issue than money.


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much, Dewayne and Kent, and thanks also to Joanne Martin of Excelliant for helping set up today's session. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements.

If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page. The transcript will be posted later this afternoon and you will be able to access it from our home page.

We are pleased to announce a new EIIP partner since our last session, Pocket Mobility, Inc. URL: http://www.pocketmobility.com, POC: Greg Ouzounian, Product Manager

If your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the Partnership link on our home page.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Our session is adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to our speakers for a fine job!