When Disaster Strikes

When Disaster Strikes

The COVID-19 pandemic upended practically everything. An AAMVA working group aims to help jurisdictions be better prepared in the face of whatever disaster comes next

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After COVID-19 interrupted all normal business operations, AAMVA created a working group dedicated to helping jurisdictions prepare for the next emergency. The Emergency Resilience and Response Working Group is preparing a list of emergency preparedness best practices, which members can employ before, during and after a natural or manmade disaster strikes.

“All jurisdictions face different risks and hazards,” says Kristen Shea, senior programs analyst for Member Services and Public Affairs with AAMVA. “Some are the same, such as a pandemic. While some of our jurisdiction members face hazards like wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards and even cyberattacks. Anything that has the ability to disrupt the normal operation of one of our jurisdiction members would be considered a crisis.”

So what does the best practices document recommend jurisdictions do in a crisis?

The first step should take place long before a crisis ever happens. Shea says that being adequately prepared means having a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) document already in place.

“The COOP is intended to be a living plan that gives jurisdictions an opportunity to think about how they will maintain critical services in the face of disaster,” she says.

For the COOP to be most effective, however, jurisdictions must frequently revisit and update the document as changes occur.

“We want to help our members make their COOP a living document that is regularly reviewed and updated, which better serves the organization,” Shea says.

For instance, she says that it’s unlikely anyone had a global pandemic in their COOP, but now that we know what can happen, everyone should address how to be prepared if—and when—it happens again.

The working group also recommends creating ample mitigation strategies. For instance, a good business practice is to keep information on multiple servers in different locations should one location see a disaster, like a fire.

“This is what we mean when we talk about resilience. It’s about hardening yourself and your organization against risk,” Shea says. “Jurisdictions need to build in redundancies as a resilience measure so that they can keep working and keep functions going while they—and perhaps the community at large—experience an emergency.”

In addition to creating a COOP, regularly updating it and building in adequate mitigation strategies, the best practices document provides guidance on a jurisdiction’s IT infrastructure, risk assessment, external communication plan, chain of command, agreements with other agencies, PPE, workplace readiness and more.

Preparedness helps jurisdictions mitigate the impact of emergencies on normal operations. The key to being prepared is an effective emergency readiness, response and recovery plan covering communications, technology, service delivery and all other topics necessary for safety and operational continuity, according to Shea.

“Whatever the emergency, the importance of developing, regularly updating and practicing a comprehensive readiness and response plan cannot be overstated,” she says. “And the working group is very excited to be able to provide a novel resource that fills a need that members raised to AAMVA’s board.”

For more information on the Emergency Resiliency and Response Working Group, Listen to this podcast: tinyurl.com/2h8jyxp6.

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