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Volume 27, Issue 3

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The Unique Role of Business Continuity in Police Operations

The root of business continuity planning relies heavily on external emergency assistance in event response. This is prevalent in all planning functions where often one of the first tasks is activation of police, fire, and medical assistance. This places emergency services in a unique position from a continuity of operations perspective. Within this challenge lies the multiple response functions of police agencies placing an even heavier burden on police readiness to address major emergencies. As professionals, we understand the concept of cascading events and the impact these have on business capability. In relation to police agencies, this consideration is crucial not only to the agency but the community as well.

Police Functions

The variety of police functions during a time of emergency is truly unique in emergency services response. The general tasks designed for police operation in a major event are security, evacuation, and transportation functions. Even within these broad categories, police agencies must consider lifesaving, limited rescue responsibility, armed response, investigations, information dissemination, and documentation. Often the support role of police becomes one of actual leadership in times of crisis assisting in guiding initial response activities. This task list presents the larger problem for police agencies in continuity planning: diversity. In comparison to business operations, core functions are diverse and require numerous support mechanisms for operation. The often cited example of Hurricane Katrina is one event that illustrates the major role of police in disaster areas. In Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department faced major obstacles attributable to the continuity of operations plan. As a main response agency in emergencies, planning to ensure the ability to respond and continue police functions despite major challenges cannot be undervalued.

Police Historical Continuity Plans

Police agencies have relied heavily on military organizations for operational preparations. Many agencies’ continuity plans default to call out lists, activation procedures, and memorandum of understanding. This follows the functional planning of military organizations in doctrine relating to mobilization. Often, consideration for the complex internal operations of police “business” is lost in these mobilization plans. There is also reliance from police agencies on federal and military response and assistance. It is clear that this type of reliance is not a plan at all. A doctrine pointed out by a colleague that epitomizes the current police agency status is, “Why plan when you can react?”

In a historical perspective, risk management was operated on the basis of dealing with problems as they arose and not the development of mitigation and preparation strategies. Many police managers would not consider budgeting for something without immediate impact. Lessons learned has certainly gotten the attention of police managers as public accountability, and expectations have moved continuity planning forward.

What Can Police Take From Business Continuity?

Over the last several years, civilian police agencies have been bridging this gap through the incorporation of business practices in a number of police functions. The incorporation of business practices in police operations has enhanced the specialized role of police agencies assisting in all areas of operation. The problem of police continuity plans is the lack of business practices currently in place. The very unique role of emergency service does not allow for a full business practice incorporation. This is not necessarily a negative. Using business principles as a guide, emergency service continuity plans can develop along the same parameters as business. Concepts such as business impact analysis (BIA) or recovery time objectives (RTOs) have relevance and can greatly enhance continuity planning. While business practices are unable to fully comprehend the police role and demands, using business principles can enhance and provide overall direction. One additional aspect for police agencies to consider is mandated continuity plans. Agencies such as Department of Homeland Security/FEMA, Public Safety Canada, and the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) provide guidelines for the implementation of continuity plans. In having guidelines for continuity planning through these agencies, credibility is given to the development of a continuity program.

Police Continuity of Operations Assumptions

One major deviation in thinking from emergency services to business planning is the use of negative versus positive assumptions to guide continuity planning. While business utilizes positive assumptions of what will work, police agencies cannot afford this stance. The use of negative assumptions allows police agencies to prepare continuity plans around problems rather than through problems.

An example of this is the assumption that communications systems will be impacted by an emergency event. This assumption directs the plan toward unique solutions in order to ensure police functions. Negative assumptions such as major workforce reductions allows for planning around not only resources but ensuring resource viability. Emergency response agencies do not have the ability to call additional resources at the outset of a disaster. Long-term plans can assist in later response tasks but cannot help at event onset.

Positive assumptions of what will operate are dangerous to the preparation of emergency service organizations. Unlike business, failure does not result in lost revenue or reputation. The direct results of failure can be life, property, and public confidence as seen in other disasters. These outcomes are unacceptable, and if a failure of emergency services occurs, has the cascading effect on numerous other aspects of emergency response.

In-House Planning

While many police agencies use outsourced contractors, there are several challenges for use of business continuity professionals. Even when using contractors, police agencies must have input and guidance to the program. The aspect for consideration is the expertise of the police “liaison.” Many agencies have used emergency management personnel or those with limited experience to help guide such a program. If police agencies are serious about business continuity as we all recognize they must be, it is only logical to incorporate professional education for police personnel. An understanding of the business continuity concept is only valuable in the liaison role with a sufficient depth of knowledge. This can only be achieved through appropriate training and professional participation.

In the Edmonton Police Service, continuity of operations planning falls under Disaster, Emergency, and Operations Planning Section (DEOPS). This is the major emergency planning arm of the police and has in place trained personnel. The Edmonton Police Service commitment to education has allowed for members to become certified in business continuity. Currently, two members of the service are certified with a mentorship program in place to further develop professionals.

Continuity Program or Project

The question of “program or project” is key for police agencies. While it is recognized that projects have end dates, programs do not. One major area of police concern is officer safety and is a program in all police agencies. Business continuity in police agencies must be treated with the same vigor and priority as officer safety. Plan implementation, evaluation, training, and incorporation are program parts that all police agencies must have in place. Consideration for police officers is not the only part of a business continuity program. Decision maker training and incorporation into municipal, provincial, state, and federal plans are also a part of this program strategy. Developing a resilient and prepared organization trained regularly and exercised in continuity of operations is the only means to develop an effective program. Once again, this follows business practices and principles of adult education critical to an effective program.


Police agencies have considered business practices in a variety of operational areas. Placing an emphasis on business continuity planning requires a great deal of internal emphasis. Developing in-house professionals to facilitate continuity plans unique to police agencies is critical to the continuity plans of government, community, and business. Applying business continuity concepts can aid the development of police appropriate plans that are relevant, effective, and efficient. Developing a broad-based, all-hazards plan that is exercised will enhance internal and community confidence in its police agency.

Sgt. Grant Jongejan, MS, ABCP works in the Disaster Emergency Operations and Planning Section (DEOPS) for the Edmonton Police Service. He is responsible for continuity planning for the police and is a current bomb technician.