As difficult as it is to plan for emergencies such as active shooter events, it’s just as important (and oftentimes more challenging) to contend with the aftermath. This is especially true when facilities must shut down, or relocate, for extended periods of time, and Continuity of Operations (COOP) or Continuity of Government (COG) plans come into play. Take the recent and very tragic mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for example.

The incident took place at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, a complex of more than 30 buildings, where government workers and local residents constantly come and go, and hundreds if not thousands of important transactions take place every weekday. In a matter of minutes, the facility went from a workplace serving the needs of local citizens to one functioning in full emergency operations mode. Flagged as a crime scene, employees were sent home and the doors closed.

On Monday, June 3, 2019, the complex re-opened. That is, with the exception of the Public Utilities Department where the incident occurred. It remains shut down until further notice.

Unfortunate situations like the Virginia Beach shooting remind us all of the need for organizations to think worst-case and plan ahead. That means having 1) an actionable Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), which outlines how to respond to, and ultimately recover from, critical events (like an active shooter); and 2) a comprehensive Continuity of Operations (COOP) plan. COOPs detail how to maintain mission-critical operations and relocate to an alternate facility, if needed, after an all-hazards emergency.

In the aftermath of events like this, everyone must work toward coming to grips with the outcomes of the incident emotionally—the loss of life, the injuries, the fear of returning to work or re-entering the building(s), etc. Financially, employees may lose valuable income, as could the entire organization. Civically, certain services may be unavailable, or limited to the public for an extended period of time. Logistically, operations may need to shift to remote, oftentimes less convenient locations.

COOP or COG planning is a preparedness effort aimed at ensuring an organization’s Essential Functions (ESFs) continue to be performed during a critical situation. They tell people where they could/should go; how best to communicate and what to say; which functions are most important and how they could/should be completed; and which equipment is necessary, or available, to continue their work. Any event that makes it impossible for employees to work in their regular facility could result in the activation of a COOP plan.

Having one plan without the other may leave your facility (and the people it serves) in an even worse situation. And, that’s clearly no place any public or private sector organization wants to be.