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One of the 10 Professional Practices for Business Continuity Professionals that organizations often overlook is “coordination with external agencies,” most notably government officials. Often as business continuity planners, we think we have our plans and we are too busy to build those outside relationships. However, without this coordination, your recovery could be in jeopardy.

Attendance at the “coordination with public authorities” table during the Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) session at DRJ Spring World 2006 may be indicative of the attention paid to this subject overall. There were fewer participants at this table than any other.

I know there is passion and concern about this issue but I have to ask myself, “Why are people not as interested in this area as they are in the others?”

I know there are time and resource constraints and every company is trying to do more with less. Perhaps organizations are concerned about bringing local authorities into their organization.

My conclusion is that organizations look internally and really believe their recovery is in their own hands. Sometimes it is.
A lot of focus has been placed on our most recent major disaster – the recovery resulting from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma – but it also serves as a great example of how your recovery may not be entirely in your hands. The decisions made and actions taken by any local government may well impact your ability to recover operations.

Closure of roads and other governmental decisions may result in an inability to execute your plans. If the local health department demands quarantines or school closures due to a pandemic, you can bet decisions such as these will affect your recovery and day-to-day operations.

However, if you have partnered with local officials prior to the incident, you will better understand the likely decisions and be able to plan accordingly. My experience has been that if you reach out and build working relationships with local officials before an incident you will reap rewards afterward.

Understanding realistic expectations of your local government is crucial. Knowing what they will or won’t do, when they will or won’t come, and what their priorities are, will help you be better prepared to support your organization if needed during a disruption.

Based on GAP feedback for coordination with external agencies, some of the key items include:

1. Know who our local authorities are and how to contact them. Develop a relationship with them so they know who you are, what your organization does and the importance of continuing your operations. Have contact information in your plan so they can be reached during off hours.

2. Understand and utilize the appropriate communication protocols. Know how your local authorities expect to obtain information from you and how they will provide the information to you.

3. Ensure information that may be required immediately by public authorities during an incident is readily available. By working with them in advance, you will know and have ready the information they need which may also help in saving your facility or operations.

4. Obtain and review your facilities and regional access issues. Working with your local authorities, you can understand what access issues may exist during a regional incident and be better prepared to direct your employees.

5. Acquire public authority reports of area vulnerabilities and risks. These will assist you in your risk assessmnts and planning. They often have records of these thereby saving you time and effort.

6. Participate in local and regional training and exercises. Attending local training is a great way to meet local authorities and to understand what they are expecting as well as getting some education yourself.

7. Notify and include authorities in organizational exercises where applicable. Inviting them to participate builds the relationship and allows them to see how your organization is going to respond during an incident. They also bring additional expertise to help in the planning of your scenario and exercise.

8. Advocate participation in your local or state emergency operations center. This is happening in some localities, but not all. If you participate in a business continuity professional group, advocate the group have representation in the EOC to enhance communication out to the businesses as well as provide additional resources to the EOC.

You are encouraged to access the GAP document at www.drj.com/GAP/ to obtain additional ideas on what you can do to coordinate with the authorities.

Sue Hornstra Kerr, CBCP, is the co-president of Continuity First, a business resiliency firm specializing in business continuity, disaster recovery, crisis management, security and privacy. She is a member of the DRJ Editorial Advisory Board and the president of the Old Dominion chapter of the ACP.

Printed In Fall 2006