Five factors to help assess the effectiveness of your business continuity plan in the wake of COVID-19
If your municipality had an established business continuity plan before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is massively being tested. When the current crisis is behind us, and we have time to breathe and assess, private and public sector leaders must all take what they have learned from this experience and use it to reinforce their operations in preparation for a future calamity. As you audit the effectiveness of your business continuity plan, pay close attention to the following five critical assessment factors.
How Did Your Systems and Infrastructure Perform?
One of the most unexpected realities of the COVID-19 pandemic was the mobilization of remote workforces. Municipalities whose staff members have traditionally been required to maintain a presence at on-site offices and facility locations have suddenly been distributed to work remotely from their homes. Such unexpected, broad remote system access needs can quickly tax virtual private networks (VPN) and put critical administrative data and systems at risk of a cyberattack via computers, servers and networks out of the municipality’s control.
Municipal IT leaders should assess how well their infrastructure, systems, and networks were able to withstand the decentralized work environment. They should also evaluate if they need to shift their software and hardware strategy to ensure that, should their employees ever face another remote work requirement, that they have the necessary devices and tools.
For many municipalities, when the social distancing mandates were established, IT staff were forced to scramble to purchase laptops for essential staff who use desktops in their office. As an additional complication, many remote staff members were unable to access critical installed software from their home devices. For this reason, your IT team’s assessment should consider if a transition to cloud-based software is in the long-term best interest of its business continuity capabilities.
Assess Citizen Government Delivery Impact
Ask each department in your administration to create a report that outlines what citizen service delivery operations were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Was your accounting team able to process online utility bill payments, or do you only accept in-person or mailed delivery of paper checks? Did your department of public works have enough staff to disseminate to accomplish necessary projects, such as closing roads or sanitizing park equipment? Was your Department of Health Services capable of caring for underserved and at-risk populations? What supplies, personnel, or training did they lack?
Once all the reports are received, your leadership should assess and prioritize how best to address all areas of identified weakness to safeguard your operations from a future disaster.
How Effective Were Your Internal and External Communications?
Your public communication office’s assessment of its performance during the disaster will be one of the most vital. The report should determine if communication leaders had the technology tools needed to disseminate urgent news, information, and instructions timely. How did it manage relations and inquiries from the media? How did citizens perceive press conferences and messages from elected officials? How did citizens respond to news and updates on social media? Did social channels serve as helpful and trusted sources of two-way dialog, were they underutilized, or did they become unmonitored avenues for rumor and speculation?
Finally, how were internal communications managed? Did department leaders and key stakeholders have access to the information they needed promptly, or were there gaps in the information dissemination process that slowed effectiveness or led to operational missteps?
Based on the results of your communications department’s report, ask communication leaders to address any significant areas of weakness immediately, since—as we have all learned—no community can predict when the next disaster will strike.
How Did the Pandemic and Your Administration’s Response Impact Citizen Trust Levels?
It might be difficult to accurately measure and assess this vital metric if your municipality did not previously monitor citizen trust factors. However, it will be critical for your administration to understand how the pandemic impacted how your citizens feel about their local leaders in the days and weeks marked by recovery.
Did citizens feel that they received accurate, timely information? Did they believe that their local leaders had their best interests, health, and safety in mind when making decisions? Did business owners feed valued and supported? Could citizens obtain information, resources, and services online? Could they submit service requests or general inquiries or suggestions to their leaders through digital channels, and were those requests and ideas responded to promptly?
You may feel like you have anecdotal information at your disposal to determine how the pandemic impacted citizen trust and administrative perception. However, the only way to ensure you are hearing a broad spectrum of citizen voices is to solicit feedback, whether it be through an online survey mechanism, a virtual or in-person town hall, or—ideally—a combination of both.
Looking to the Future
Your administration certainly hopes never to have to use its business continuity plan in the future; however, the reality of the world we live in today means that at any time, your community could be targeted by a cybersecurity hack, threatened by a natural disaster, or quarantined by another pandemic. While the lasting effects of COVID-19 – especially the loss of life – will be felt for years to come, the best thing local leaders can do is to learn from the experience and use those lessons to safeguard its staff and citizens in the future.
Ben Sebree is the director of research and development for CivicPlus.