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Ebola and the Impact on the COOP

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On Monday morning I woke up to the horrible news that the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurse diagnosed with the Ebola virus over the weekend was a 2010 graduate of Texas Christian University. As a Fort Worth resident, proud TCU alum, and daughter of a recently retired nurse, the news hit home. I also had flashbacks of H1N1 (Swine Flu) in 2009… when I happened to be planning my May wedding in Mexico during the peak of the scare. I am assuming it is only a matter of days or weeks before we begin practicing our “COOP” planning, especially in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

Sadly, I had to Google “COOP” to remember what it actually stands for — Continuity of Operations Plan. The COOP is the initiative that ensures that Federal Government departments and agencies are able to continue operations of their essential functions under a broad range of circumstances including all-hazard emergencies as well as natural, man-made, and technological threats and national security emergencies.

I was a supervisor from 2011-2014, and fortunately there weren’t any major emergencies that required the COOP protocol. However, my big takeaway from that three-year period was the importance of having updated employee information both in the system and available to managers. (So that is a good place to start, if you haven’t already.)

Fortunately, most federal government offices (including HUD) offer employees the option to telework. My current job allows for a maximum of three days per week of telework. However, I could probably continue my work output with similar efficiency if the COOP required 100% telework. The most difficult part for me would be the administrative functions – printing, mailing, etc. – but I could make it work. However, I wonder about the system capabilities as the number of remote users logging in to our system increases substantially.

Another aspect of the COOP is ensuring essential functions continue. My previous job was in affordable housing, where it is essential that housing authorities receive their subsidies so they can continue to serve their residents and communities. Obviously that is a high priority at HUD.   Now I work in an enforcement and compliance capacity, and it is possible that the COOP could reprioritize assignments to ensure the “essential” items are completed.

I have a few questions that I hope will generate some discussion: 1) What COOP exercises has your organization undergone, and what did you learn from them?; 2) If a COOP plan went into effect tomorrow and you couldn’t go into the office, could you work efficiently from home? If not, what is hindering you?

Nicole Willingham is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Steve

We had a COOP exercise where the first “wave” of a disease that resulted in the following – some employees were fine, some employees were sick/had to take care of someone sick, and some were too scared to leave the house. The second “wave” introduced more people getting sick and too scared to leave the house. It really showed how easy it was to wipe out our capacity since we have had less staff due to cuts.

I could work pretty efficiently from home tomorrow as long as my computer at home was on to remote into. The difficult part right now would probably be meetings for some projects we have going on, but for my day to day work, there would be few issues.