What is an emergency/continuity plan?
An emergency/continuity plan addresses the questions: how can we prepare to continue operations despite adverse events, better known as disasters or if we can not continue, how can we resume our operations rapidly and gracefully?
The core mission of Brock University is teaching, alongside research, public services and health services. These four enterprises, along with the infrastructure that supports them, are the focus of our emergency/continuity plan.
Who should do emergency/continuity plan?
All university departments, both academic and administrative based. Depending on the department size, some may choose to create plans within the sub-departments. Additional units which provide essential support or infrastructure to these departments should also do emergency/continuity planning.
Should we appoint a departmental emergency/continuity planning coordinator?
Yes, typically a staff member who has access to your senior management. This is a combined role; project manager and group facilitator. It is a temporary, part-time assignment for the duration of the planning. However, the coordinator often continues informally as the departmental expert and contact person for emergency issues and updates.
How long does it take to create an emergency/continuity plan?
This is approximately a two - four month project. Majority of the time will be "white space" awaiting meetings and a consensus developed around priorities and action items. The number of actual staff hours required is surprisingly small, because B-Ready uses a "fill in the blanks" process. Virtually no time is spent learning how to do a continuity plan, simply fill in the blanks and your plan is complete.
Who should be in the planning group?
The planning group is typically a staff group, with membership drawn from middle and upper level management and supervisors; assistant deans, assistant directors, HR managers, IT managers, key functional managers, building coordinators. These are people who have access to the individuals who understand how the organization operates. Keep the group size manageable. In very small departments, the continuity plan is often completed by the head staff member, without a planning group. If your department is an academic department or research department faculty input is important. While it is often difficult to engage faculty as (I direct participants in the planning group, try to solicit faculty opinion in other ways: interview key faculty members or simply hold less formal conversations on key issues. Interview questions can be found in the B-Ready planning tool.
How does the planning group operate?
The group will typically meet and discuss, with little or no "homework". The coordinator may choose to display the B-Ready tool at the meetings using a projector. Alternatively, the coordinator can provide the group with the printed plan (which includes all entries to date) for discussion. On occasion, the coordinator or group member may interview a key manager or do research to gather the data. Interview forms can be found in the B-Ready tool.
How detailed and complete does your plan need to be?
The B-Ready tool will prompt you for the appropriate level of detail, and most of those details will be things that your group easily knows or can figure out. Be brief, most questions are best answered in a few sentences or bullets.
Should we do a plan for the entire university, or plan for each department within?
Departments would create a single plan for their cluster. Large departments or support units may find it easier to develop plans for their subunits rather than for the whole.
The instructions say to identify our critical functions, not processes. What is the difference?
Processes are the steps needed to accomplish a function. For example:
The function "provide meals for residents of university residence" is accomplished through the process of "food buying, food storage, cooking, serving and cleanup."
We focus on major functions because processes are too specific and detailed for our level of planning.
What assumptions can we make about what the campus will do for us after a disaster?
Here are some reasonable assumptions:
Access to buildings - If campus officials have reason to suspect that a building is hazardous to enter, they will immediately close the building and call in trained inspectors. In the worst case, the inspection process alone could take two weeks, with hazmat cleanup and repairs taking much longer.
Locating temporary space - This may pose a big challenge for the campus; any arrangements you have made ahead of time will serve you well. For example, make an agreement with another department in a separate building or with colleagues in another institution. Anything you can do within your own department will be to your benefit, such as sharing labs and offices that remain accessible.
Computing infrastructure - Restoration of our centrally supported IT applications will be of highest priority after any disruption. This includes email, internet, payroll, physical campus data network and many other applications. Definite predications, of course, are not possible. Within your department, you should be taking steps to backup data and make plans for recovering your own servers and applications.
Communication protocol - General communications with student, faculty, staff and the public will be handled by the Emergency Response Team and Facilities Management, and will be tightly managed so that messages are consistent. As your department resumes functioning, communications of an operational nature will be your responsibility.
Contacting your staff - This will be a departmental responsibility. Each campus (St.Catharines/Hamilton) and department should keep its own emergency contact list.
Care of staff - Many staff issues arise during disaster recovery: pay, temporary leave, temporary change of assignment, safety, benefits, layoffs, work-at-home, stress and family issues. Human resources will be available with guidance and mechanisms to assist departments in these complex areas. Conversely, departments should seek guidance from Human Resources when uncertain of how to act in these matters, both before and after a disaster.
Temporary staffing - Mechanisms will be available (operated by Human Resources) for hiring temporary staff and for redeploying existing staff. Available staff that is less critical to your operation may be redeployed elsewhere.
Course scheduling and classroom assignment – In emergency conditions, departmentally controlled classrooms, labs, lounges and meeting rooms may need to be redeployed for teaching purposes in the event of the loss of traditional teaching space.
How can we craft a plan to handle unknown circumstances?
The methodology that we employ for emergency/continuity planning attempts to avoid discussion of particular adverse events that could interrupt our mission. All such events (earthquake, fire, pandemic, human sabotage, etc.) will affect our functioning in similar ways: they will temporarily prevent us from using some of the resources to which we have become accustomed to.
These resources include;
- Space (classroom, office, lab)
- People (our staff)
- Equipment (computers, networks)
- Information (library, database)
- Funds (our income)
Our planning focuses on;
- Identifying the resources that are critical; safeguarding critical resources against loss (backup of systems & data, safe storage of research)
- Actions that will lessen the impact of loss (pre-arrangements with other campuses for mutual aid)
- Replacing resources quickly (contracts with vendors)
- Performing critical functions without some of those resources (teaching via distance learning technology)
- Providing our people with the information they will need, post disaster to get the campus back in action.
At best, an emergency/continuity plan is not a step by step cookbook, but rather a jumping point for ingenuity.