It has been nearly a year since associations began implementing continuity plans due to COVID-19 closures. Now, those plans must adapt to face new challenges, such as weather crises—like those in Texas—when workforces are more remote.
Almost a year into major disruptions caused by COVID-19, many associations are still living in the environment born of their continuity plans. However, the recent freeze and power crisis in Texas are showing that additional disasters can occur on top of a pandemic, and continuity plans need to be ready for it.
“In terms of business continuity issues, we have to ask: what happens if there is a secondary crisis?” said Bob Mellinger, CBCV, founder and president of Attainium Corp. “You need to handle that differently.”
Mellinger said it’s important to recognize that plans aren’t static and need to adjust to address new situations. “A good business continuity plan will be continuously improved,” he said. “There will be new things that get added, and things that will evolve. What you are doing now is different than what you were doing a year ago. And it will probably be different than what you are going to be doing a year from now.”
For example, continuity planning looks different for associations that have gone remote. “Things are harder when you’re distributed and relying on infrastructure that you don’t control,” Mellinger said. “What if there is a massive cyberattack, and it actually goes to everyone’s PC at home, plus those servers that are maintained as part of the organizational structure?”
Scenarios like those, as well as power losses that can happen during bad weather, need to be considered. And if multiple systems are out of commission, an organization needs to be prepared for several days of lost work. “In Texas, we’re talking about large areas of people without power, without water,” Mellinger said. “They are not paying attention to work. They’re worried about their family and staying warm.”
How to Evolve
If your organization wants to ensure its continuity plan is up to date and can work with future emergencies, now is the time to start, according to Mellinger. “I’d hate to see people lose this experience by not capturing the lessons learned from it,” he said. Here are four steps to take:
Document your processes. A key to continuity is institutional knowledge, which is hard to capture. However, “It’s real easy to document processes,” Mellinger said. “Start with what do people do. What are the tasks being performed? How frequently are they being performed—daily, monthly, weekly?” Mellinger recommends scheduling time to document processes. “If it’s not a priority, it won’t get done,” he said.
Cross train. Make sure more than one person on the team understands how to do jobs. “Whose backing this process up?” Mellinger said. “You want to have somebody able to step in. Even if they’re not great, they’re going to be better than you or me, because we don’t know anything.”
Debrief and improve. The pandemic showed that associations can survive a major continuity interruption. Determine the lessons learned and incorporate them into your continuity plan. “Some of the things that were decided last year, we decided on the fly: ‘Everyone go home. Now!’” Mellinger said. “‘Oh, I wish we would have thought to tell you to take this stuff with you.’ Debrief to capture this information. What decisions did you make? Which ones were timely? Which ones weren’t? What would you tell them now knowing what you know now, versus back then?”
Consider the current situation. If your staff are mostly remote, do plans related to your building need changes? “If you only have three people in the office, and the fire alarm goes off, they’re just going to run. They’re out,” Mellinger said. Look at those plans to see if they need adjustments, particularly in how to check in and count evacuated staff. Also, most pre-pandemic communicable disease plans concerned seasonal flu. Adjustments related to the current pandemic need to be codified.