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Contingency plans: a managerial perspective.

Actualizado: 11 oct 2020

Autor: Beatriz Gutiérrez , Phd/APP

Year 5 - Week 3

ISSN 2603 - 9931

Terrorist attacks such as the 9/11, and later on all those occurred in soft targets all around the world, have renewed the interest in emergency planning. Public emergency planning tends to be based conducted by specialized agencies, as police and fire departments, EMS, etcetera, which main goal is to prevent government to stop functioning after a disaster; in order to do so, they focus on the protection of the public and public structures, among them those considered as critical. On its side, private sector has developed a new concern about business continuity after suffering a disaster. However, in many cases the private sector is rooted on local basis, which seem to be the most vulnerable of the public sector chain. Attending to the principle of the Duty of Care, it is also a moral obligation of the private sector provide a response to these vulnerabilities in order to protect both employees and users.

The structure set by the Department of Homeland Security targets four traditional emergency management tasks: prevent the danger through intelligence and early detention, prepare for incidents by effective planning, response based on that planning, and recovery. However, the approach has been traditionally focused on public and properties, and to a lesser extent, on government business continuity as a public service, which during a crisis is obviously critical. In this sense, the first rank, local governments, have been traditionally slow in implementing measures to protect administration employees and their ability to function at work. The information technology era has only worsened the scene, as cyberattacks as those suffered last year by Baltimore and some Texas cities have proved.

Normally, functional governments tend to be successful in recovery and reconstruction tasks after a disaster of any kind. These tasks include mitigating the negative consequences of primary impacts, such as earthquake ground shaking or floods, and secondary impacts as hazardous materials spills, collapsed buildings or contamination of city water supplies. Governments are also tasked with resuming interrupted social services, organizing the chain of recovery, especially on the short-term, and management of interagencies coordination in aspects as disaster declarations or mutual aid programs (Perry & Mankin, 2005). In fact, the government’s legitimacy relies on the effective management these crisis stages (Boin, ’t Hart, Stern, & Sundelius, 2017). But, as Perry and Mankin address, “the key to effective government functioning -disasters or not- lies in motivated personnel who are physically able to work, with access to the appropriate equipment (for example, computers, vehicles) to do their jobs. Following a disaster, the availability of such resources in any organization is a function of emergency planning. For local government, the pre-planning needs to be present at two levels: that of the jurisdiction (accomplished by police, fire and emergency managers), and that of the department (accomplished by managers and human resources staff) (Perry & Mankin, 2005, 177).

When a disaster occurs, local governments are overloaded with service demands. However, these demands are frequently similar from case to case, and connected to service needs. They are frequently directed to specific departments as fire, police or emergency services, but also there is a managerial component of routine demands related to housing, financial support due to temporary job loss, sanitation, school and other areas of government responsibility: in these situations, when the Federal or the State government delay their response, citizens normally appeal to the local authorities for support. In this sense, whereas natural disasters usually generate service demands, the impact of terrorist attacks affects the whole national community, increasing the segment of population requiring assistance, moving from one municipality to a broad number of municipalities.

The problem becomes dual: during a moment of grief, governments have to deal with the damages suffered by employees, physical structures and equipment, while delivering emergency services and routine services in their own jurisdictions. So a question remains open: in this environment, who should be responsible to take care of government employees and so guarantee the continuity of services provisions? Who has to design and implement emergency measures at the local government level to guarantee services covering the emergency needs of citizens?

Following a classical administrative structure based at national, regional and local level, it is obvious that despite the jurisdictional responsibilities during emergency management situations, it is the local level the closest one to citizens and consequently the one who will have to provide the first needed services. This means that contingency and service continuity plans are of the utmost importance at this level. In order to do that, local administrations have to focus on the protection of employees to perform the assigned tasks, the infrastructures so these tasks may be moved to different undamaged facilities, and the equipment and information as to continue operating.

When referring to relocation, although in the last two decades many institutional buildings have strengthened their facilities against terrorist attacks damages and secondary damages as hazardous material spills or collapse of walls and debris, it is convenient to have located number of secondary facilities where services may be re-deployed on short notice, with commodities enough for employees to resume their work on such stressful situations. Similarly, it is mandatory to have an identified minimum inventory of material and equipment to transport to the new temporary facilities to start operating with, having in mind that some of this initial material might be damaged as a result of the attack. The combination of both measures may reduce the times of re-deployment and consequently of continuation in the provision of services.

Finally, employees as public servants are at the base of the response stairway and the provision of immediate services in emergencies. Two aspects are key: personnel training, especially in evacuation protocols –both of personnel and materials and equipment- through drills and exercises on regular basis, and protocols for securing information and records. Employees` safety is an obvious need in case of any kind of emergency, but also some needs as channels during crisis management to be informed about family welfare and post-incident psychological relief follow-up is mandatory. Secondly, the privation of access to data may disrupt complete the response system; even not in an emergency situation, affairs as the rasomware attack in Baltimore are a good example of the impact on daily routine the denial of access to information may cause; although cyberattacks affect logical security, the same effects take place in terms of physical security, where data cannot be access due to the destruction of the physical hardware or storage devices. Cloud computing with solid security, analogical back-ups and even paper records may be of use.

To sum up, prevention shouldn’t be exclusively focused on management issues of the incident, but also on management issues of the crisis, with a broader scope which includes also the continuity of the service, a critical aspect especially when talking about the public sector.

Boin, A., ’t Hart, P., Stern, E., & Sundelius, B. (2017). The politics of crisis management. Public leadership under pressure. (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Perry, R., & Mankin, L. (2005). Preparing for the unthinkable: managers, terrorism. and the HRM function. Public Personnel Management, 34(2), 175–193.

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