Building a Continuity Plan into a CP During OP COVID-19 ASSISTBy Marius Basanovic December 11, 2020
Think about the last time you were in a Command Post (CP) and how close in proximity members worked together. Suppose for a moment you’re part of Joint Task Unit contributing to OP COVID ASSIST, providing support to the State Government’s response to the public health state of emergency. Only shortly after having been being raised, the signaller working within your CP developed flu like symptoms and as a precaution was isolated and tested for COVID-19.
Whilst awaiting the results, your Headquarters is forced to consider the dilemma that all members in the CP may have been potentially exposed to COVID. Having spent many hours working in unavoidably close proximity meant that a return of a positive test result would require all members of the CP to be tested and pre-emptively isolated. This was the situation I found myself in as a Task Unit S33. One where a dispersion of CP functions into a virtual setting is one which had not been contemplated, nor had any member present had previous experience with.
Luckily the member returned a negative test result (likely only having the flu) and operations were not impacted. Although as the pathogen still exists in the community, then a Headquarters’ susceptibility to become a COVID cluster persists. Prior preparation of such a scenario is the only way to change it from a dilemma into a problem;
- A dilemma being a predicament that cannot be fixed.
- A problem being a predicament that can be fixed.
For a team to remain successful it must pre-empt obstacles. A realistic continuity plan is essential to maintain work-flow when they do arise. To use military vernacular, continuity planning involves setting up actions on for when sudden obstacles occur. Familiarity in doctrine already exists, including the step up procedure of a company level formation in order to maintain C2 continuity. With this in mind the new obstacle of COVID shouldn’t disrupt a CPs operation if a thorough plan is in place. Construction of a plan that minimises lost time and manpower when a COVID-19 test result returns positive. Below are considerations deliberated during the apprehensive days awaiting the CP Signaller ’s test results.
1. Identify Internal and External Risks to Increase Resilience
The first step of continuity planning is knowing the threat(1). Identify risks from internal and external sources that could cause impact. The preemptive isolation alone (that is required to occur by ADF policy when flu like symptoms present) could temporarily shut down a CP. Handing over critical functions to an incumbent CP reserve whilst isolating will could soak up valuable focus. This extends to sanitation of the CP workspace, which could temporarily isolate key equipment causing a failure point in the ongoing operation. These are universal risks that currently all civilian businesses face, and have adapted to new operating practices such as virtual communication. But the unique requirements of a ADF environment may make such practice infeasible. Limiting of external ingress by limiting building access to essential personnel may include turning away civilian contractors. Utilisation of the COVID SAFE App(2) should be mandatory, akin to a safety device, with any concern about it not adhering to OPSEC having been substantively answered (3).Reducing physical interaction/overlap during HOTOs may be best done socially distanced. Taking stock of all likely failure/ingress points may be the only way to harden the CP.
2. Define Your Continuity Plan Goals
Outline the goal and end-state you aim to accomplish. The goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (SMART). Avoid generic end-states like ‘maintain redundancy’, as detail is the key to a realistic continuity plan. Choose which members the plan needs to apply to. For example a staff function/cell which needs to interact face-to-face with members external to the CP should potentially site their physical workspace outside of the CP to minimise the potential for cross-transmission. Within the goal, budget time for preparing and carrying out continuity rehearsals (discussed later). Brainstorm what external support will be needed for implementation too if the worst case scenario is realised (ie. REODEMs).
3. Identify a Continuity Team
Continuity planning requires cell members to lead the plan independently. Consider your cell’s staffing and ask if there exists someone who is prepared to step in without notice. For example, at worse could a CSM double hat the S4 role? For accountability appoint one person from each cell to be in charge of ensuring the products, equipment and information management remains in a state of being handed over. Identify your continuity one-up and list their names and contact information into the plan to maintain clarity.
4. View Your Processes By Importance
Which processes are required to stay operational? For a continuity plan, you must settle on which functions are vital and which aren't. Identify everything that keep mission vital operations afloat. As the government has done with peoples employment, rank your functions as essential and non-essential. Question whether your CP can survive without a certain function temporarily. Ask yourself whether pausing a function will create a secondary effect by determining if there are stakeholders that require the function for decision making. Less urgent functions (possibly S1, S2 in a COVID-19 context) could be briefly placed on the back burner.
5. Explain Your Response Strategies
By now, you've constructed a solid list of risks and essential functions. Combine the two to identify strategies that mitigate each risk and keep critical functions running. A detailed plan is necessary for every function deemed essential. Lay out the actions-on for each dilemma you come up with. For instance, you might find your S4 is in precautionary isolation. Perhaps you create a virtual communications SOP for them to back brief the CP regularly whilst working in physical isolation. Additionally you have identified an alternative member to assume the S4 functions where there are processes that require a physical presence, such as stores access. Through this planning you can ensure this alternative member has the same permissions and access (keys, IT, etc) prior to an essential function failing. Ensure digital information is clearly stored and keep hard copy backups. Don't rely on one network to work. A basic example is to utilise alternatives like VERA Cloud Collaboration or FORCENET to help document transfer when Objective is down.
6. Allocate Time for Rehearsals
Make your plan dilemma-proof by rehearsing your contingency plans with those involved. Actions-on should work like a well-oiled machine and so should continuity plans. Every member needs to be fully aware of the continuity plan. In a Reserve environment, force restructuring is inherent (4), therefore develop a summary that teaches new members about the plan. Give subordinates a summary that depicts what to do when activated, and answer their questions to build clarity.
Overall, future adaption to a COVID-19 context is clearly required. CPs need contingency plans to continue their operations with little, if any, lost time. Prepare a continuity plan that accounts for all variables. This is not the first pandemic, therefore solicit feedback from SMEs for additions to the plan(5). Apply a proactive approach to build a continuity plan that tames all threats. Never wait until dilemmas have occurred to create a response.