A Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) documents how your department or business unit will perform essential operations during an emergency situation or long-term disruption, which might last from two days to several weeks. The plan identifies mission-critical functions, departmental communication methods, and alternate personnel, systems and locations. Each University department needs a COOP to ensure the University can respond effectively to a variety of situations.
The COOP planning process focuses on two key questions:
❖ What operations performed by the department are essential to the University community? Such operations might include providing food and shelter, utilities, security services, communication and computing devices, payroll, etc.
❖ What resources are required to continue those essential operations during an emergency or disruption?
Departmental Continuity Planner
Recruiting a department continuity planner is highly recommended to manage your continuity plan. It is important to designate a person in the department, preferably a staff member who has a good relationship/rapport with department heads and leaders. The department continuity planner will need to identify key information within the department and will be responsible for building and maintaining the continuity plan in Veoci with support from the Office of Emergency Management.
Although building the continuity plan will require more time in the beginning, this is not a full-time position. Eventually, it will be a periodic, part-time assignment of updating documents, contact information, and annually reviewing the plan. A backup continuity planner is advised who can fill in when the primary is unavailable.
The role is part project manager, part group facilitator. In essence, all levels of the department, school or business unit will be involved in the planning process. The dialogue around business continuity should circulate among upper and middle managers, associate and assistant deans, key functional managers, building coordinators and other support staff.
1. Assign a Department Continuity Planner.
A department continuity planner is responsible for building and managing your department-specific continuity plan. This is not a full-time job, but you will need to designate a person who knows each piece of your operations. A backup is recommended in case the primary is unavailable. An effective lead is usually a staff member who has access to department heads and leaders.
They should begin by becoming acquainted with the planning process in Veoci, locate vital records, contact lists, and specialized equipment critical for your department to operate during an emergency.
2. Build your continuity plan.
A continuity plan template is available in Veoci and uses a straightforward series of questions to build your continuity plan. Veoci allows the planner to access and build their department-specific continuity plan at their own speed. Your continuity planner will need to identify key information within your department including a list of all your department’s essential functions. This is your framework to help everyone know what to do instead of panicking.
With the help of the Office of Emergency Management, the process is simple and once completed can be easily distributed to your department.
3. Have your plan reviewed.
The Office of Emergency Management will review your plan and provide feedback. As this is a living document, your continuity plan will always need to be updated and reviewed. Officially, your continuity plan will need to be reviewed on an annual basis, but your plan will undergo many updates and revision between review cycles.
4. Pursue the completion of action items, and annually review/update your plan.
As you develop your plan, you’ll have several opportunities to identify action items for improving continuity. Most of the planning process involves documenting your department’s current level of preparedness, but the action items are specific tasks for improving your department’s level of preparedness.
The Office of Emergency Management prepares an annual report on the continuity planning program for senior leaders that includes plan status (current, in progress, due for review), incidents requiring plan implementations, and completed action items.
Developing a continuity plan is an interdisciplinary exercise. Collaboration across and within departments will be critical to building a sustainable, meaningful, and robust plan. Rather than simply engaging in your own business area, reach out to other dependent and partner organizations.
Here are some questions to consider in this process:
❖ What essential functions does your department provide?
❖ Are there alternate work sites identified? What work can be done in the event of a loss of a building? How about with the loss of personnel? How about in the event of loss of network connectivity?
❖ Does your department have an updated contact list? Is it available offline?
❖ What special equipment, access or system requirements does your department need to function? This includes laptops, desktops, workspace, network access, laboratory equipment, machinery.
❖ What websites/vendors are critical for your department to continue operations?
❖ Are your vital records backed up?
❖ Is there a designated Order of Succession for your department/unit? Is there a Delegation of Authority created?
❖ Identify upstream and downstream dependencies.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is some information you will need to gather before you launch into the planning process.
First, you will need a Department Continuity Planner — this is not a full-time job, but you will need to designate a person who knows each piece of your operations. You will also need a backup who can fill in when your primary is unavailable.
You will need a list of all your critical business (essential) functions, as well as who and what is needed to run each of them. You will need to prioritize them based on how long you can afford for them to be down. Think of outages in terms of one day, several days, a week, a month, or even never return to service. Each of us would like everything to be back immediately, but once we start down our list it quickly becomes obvious, we will have to prioritize groups of work for our recovery. This is your framework to help everyone know what to do instead of panicking.
You will need a full contact list of all staff and their roles, facility and alternate facility information, orders of succession and delegation of authority information.
You will need a full inventory of everything you need to complete your essential functions. These are technology requirements (computers, servers, software, outside services); crucial websites, specialized equipment (laboratory and/or research equipment); specialized supplies, critical vendors, and vital records for your department.
And you may need a hand — the Office of Emergency Management is always available to help. Use this link to ask any questions.
The most basic purpose of a continuity plan is to keep your department’s essential functions up and running during a disaster and to recover with little interruption as smoothly as possible. Business interruption, or disruption, comes from a variety of sources, such as pandemics, cyberattacks, and extreme weather. Your continuity plan helps maintain resiliency by responding quickly to an interruption.
Yes. An effective continuity planner is usually a staff member who has a good relationship/rapport with department heads and leaders. The role is part project manager, part group facilitator. Your continuity planner will need to identify key information within your department and will be responsible for building and maintaining your continuity plan in Veoci with support from the Office of Emergency Management. It is a periodic, part-time assignment to help develop and then annually review the plan.
Yes. Apart from having a continuity plan to maintain resiliency by responding quickly to an interruption, the Chancellor determined that each UNCG business unit that provides essential functions shall develop and maintain a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). This plan should reflect sufficient forethought and detail to ensure a high probability of restoration of essential functions following an incident.
Because this is new and the Fall 2021 semester is underway, we are asking this to be completed in a phased approach. The number of actual staff hours required is surprisingly small, because Veoci uses a “fill in the blanks” process. Virtually no time is spent learning how to do a continuity plan — simply answer the questions and your plan is done.
September 30th, 2021: Identify your Department Continuity Planner.
October 31st, 2021: Complete the first draft of your department continuity plan.
December 1st, 2021: Complete the final version of your department continuity plan.
The time frame to complete a plan will depend on the individual department and the essential business processes they perform. However, the process in total should not take more than 1-2 months. Longer time frames do not necessarily produce better plans. Since departments/business units will be provided with plan templates, completing the Essential Functions section will likely be the most time-consuming portion of the planning process.
The continuity plan is designed as a living document — it will become outdated quickly, and that’s OK because it’s a framework, not a detailed operations plan for everything. You will need to provide access to key members of your team.
Your continuity plan needs to be tested. The best-written plans are all missing information, and you want to find the weaknesses through annual tests, not during recovery. These can be tabletop (discussion-based), exercises (doing the steps in a non-disruptive instance), or drills (actually doing the recovery in place — for our environment this is unlikely). Don’t worry though, the Office of Emergency Management will work with you for what is appropriate for your situation.
As a living document, your continuity plan will need to be kept current on at least an annual basis. Your phone numbers in your contact tree change much more frequently than you expect, for one example. The more regularly this is updated, the easier it is to maintain.
Contact us to find out what additional resources, beyond those found within Veoci, are available to help you develop your department’s continuity plan.
You should review and update your plan annually. Plans should also be reviewed and updated whenever there is a major change in your area, e.g, a new application or position is used to support a critical essential function, as well as after any emergency or disaster disrupts your department’s operations.
A well-maintained business continuity plan provides the framework for responding during tense, stressful situations. Stop and think for a moment about what you would do if your entire building was gone overnight. How would you work? The continuity plan provides a road map for getting your unit back up and running and for bringing back a prioritized list of services required to support the University’s missions of learning, discovery, engagement, and economic development.
Located in The University Policy Manual and approved by the Chancellor on August 13th, 2018, each business unit that is determined by the university to provide essential functions shall develop and maintain a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). This plan should reflect sufficient forethought and detail to ensure a high probability of restoration of essential functions following an incident.
To accomplish this task:
❖ Each business unit requiring a COOP shall designate an individual to serve as their continuity program planner.
❖ Plans shall adhere to the format provided by the Office of Emergency Management.
❖ Plans shall be updated annually and submitted to the Office of Emergency Management for review.
The continuity plan template is located in Veoci and allows the department continuity planner to build a department-specific continuity plan and allows for revisits and revisions. The continuity planner will have the flexibility to make amendments, updates, annual reviews, and digitally share the plan with the department. The template contains a straightforward series of questions. Once completed and approved, the plan will be ready for print and distribution. Veoci allows each department’s continuity plan to be unique, but also requires a level of consistency across departments.
Emergency Action Plans are building-specific, short-term plans that details how occupants should evacuate or shelter-in-place, what type of fire alarm systems are present, and where to assemble if the building is evacuated. COOPs detail how an entire department or division would provide essential services and continue to function in an extended emergency event or disruption.
Think of water flowing down a river. Whatever happens upriver, affects those downriver. Your critical functions (projects, duties) depend on something or someone else. Upstream dependencies are processes, decisions, etc. that your department is reliant on happening before you can complete an essential function. Your essential function may be waiting on deliverables from another office before it can continue.
For example - Information Technical Services must be functional before you can access information from a shared drive. They (ITS) would then be an “upstream” dependency to any work requiring UNCG technology services. Another example is that you may be waiting on a list of students from the Registrar’s Office so you know who to contact for advising sessions. The Registrar’s Office is an upstream dependency in this instance.
Downstream dependencies are processes, decisions, duties or other departments who depend on your processes.
For example - A downstream dependency for the Admissions Office would be Housing and Residence Life because Housing is dependent on students being admitted to the institution before a housing agreement/contract can be completed. In other words, your critical function must occur before another can begin.
Another example would be grant funding. An office waiting for funds might be dependent on the approval and submission of a grant by the Office of Research and Engagement. Therefore the office is a "downstream" dependent of the actions of the higher level grant approval process.