In some countries, crises like diseases, drought, or floods happen recurrently but their impact varies every year. Thus arises the question of how best to plan a response to a situation where uncertainties are present. Contingency planning is an effective approach and it is advisable to know how to design a plan of your own.
According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), a contingency plan is a management process that analyzes specific potential events or emerging situations that might threaten society. These plans establish arrangements in advance to enable timely, effective, and appropriate responses to such events and situations.
Contingency planning is a process in which stakeholders work together to identify potential crisis scenarios and develop a shared understanding about the risk. This style of planning helps establish a common set of principles and mechanisms as to how an organization would make decisions during a potential crisis.
The team should build relationships, collaboration, and confidence, which can lead to understanding, with the aim of obtaining a better response in the event of an emergency.
Preparation of the plan
In order to design and implement a contingency plan, it is important to choose a collaborative team that includes experts from all relevant departments or units of your organization. It should also include civil society representatives if the plan targets a particular region. The team should build relationships, collaboration, and confidence, which can lead to understanding, with the aim of obtaining a better response in the event of an emergency. The process of preparing a contingency plan is shown in the following chart.
How is it structured?
A contingency plan can be divided into three main sections:
- Basic plan: The basic plan provides an overview of the institution or company’s approach to emergency operations and describes the purpose, scope, and general emergency coordination (information and communication, finance, logistics, etc.).
- Contingency-specific responses: This section describes the best and worst scenarios for the contingencies prioritized, establishes early warning indicators and triggers, and defines the resources and functions required for particular hazards.
- Emergency support functions: This section describes the expected mission execution for various functions (e.g. communication, finance, IT, marketing, etc.) and identifies tasks assigned to the person responsible in each case.
Contingency planning is a process in which stakeholders work together to identify potential crisis scenarios and develop a shared understanding about the risk.
First, the basic plan should describe the most important aspects of any emergency coordination. Who has the authority to activate the plan or to take particular decisions? Who should be responsible for directing different response activities (and who can they delegate responsibility to)? How will they coordinate amongst themselves? For example, at IE University, there is a task force formed by representatives of the different departments, who meet on a daily basis and coordinate to make decisions based on the new circumstances.
Furthermore, it is important to describe information and communication management. How will information will be collected, analyzed, and disseminated? What are the main mechanisms used to identify and assess the needs of your community, your clients, or your staff? What are the alert and warning mechanisms at the institution?
It is also very important to define the possible emergency funding sources and the logistics and management mechanisms used to identify and acquire resources in advance and during emergency operations, especially to overcome gaps in capacity. What resources are needed? What resources are available? What are the different processes and timelines for allocating resources and who oversees these processes?
Finally, we need to know the main aspects and factors of our risk. What is the location, intensity, frequency, and probability of the main hazard(s)? How great is our exposure and vulnerability? What are our main coping mechanisms and capacities?
Second, we need to analyze contingency-specific responses. We need to provide details of the probable impact(s) and negative consequences of each contingency, that is, the characteristics of the different potential scenarios, including the number of people affected in different population groups and the various negative effects and losses for society or for your institution or company. Knowing the losses gives us a clear idea of the magnitude of the likely impact and allows us to estimate various planning assumptions for likely needs, in terms of both response capacity and resource needs. It is very important to plan not only for a likely scenario but also for an undesirable scenario.
This section should also provide specific early warning indicators and triggers for action based on realistic startup times for emergency interventions. A number of quantitative or qualitative early warning indicators and triggers should be identified for each scenario—for example, different levels of a state of alarm and how they would affect society or your company.
It is very important to provide information about the resources required to respond to the emergency in each scenario.
Finally, we should indicate which emergency support functions will be activated for each scenario (and each hazard, if there is more than one).
It is very important to plan not only for a likely scenario but also for an undesirable scenario.
Third, we must take into account the emergency support functions (ESFs). We need to define the critical operational functions necessary for an emergency response. Each ESF should include a description of the processes, roles, and responsibilities that the respective departments or stakeholders should carry out for preparedness and to achieve early recovery from a likely crisis situation. ESFs should focus on specific responsibilities, tasks, and operational actions needed for each function. We can have different ESFs depending on the context. If we are a national government, we might have defense, health, transport and mobility, foreign affairs, economy, and others; if we are a sales company, we might have marketing, communication, finance, and IT; and if we are a university, we might have admissions, faculty and teaching, student communication, etc.
Each ESF should include a checklist of actions identifying and describing the actions that will be taken in the event of an emergency (response and early recovery) as well as activities to be taken before the incident (preparedness).
Regular updates and improvements
Finally, contingency plans should be adapted to the current situation, as we are seeing nowadays with the COVID-19 outbreak. As it appears that this situation will last for several months, institutions and companies should design and test their contingency planning processes. This will allow them to make efficient, effective, and equitable use of resources.
The situation is uncertain and the potential scenarios are numerous. Even though we are already responding to the current emergency, we can still think about potential scenarios in the near future. This may not be traditional long-term planning, but it is a strong contingency planning proposal.
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