Even with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, organizations across the country are still grappling with when and how they will resume normal operations amidst the ongoing pandemic. They are naturally concerned about the safety of their employees, customers, students, and the community at large, and they are looking to federal, state and local governments for direction. This includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which offered guidance through its “Planning Considerations for Organizations in Reconstituting Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic” publication.
Interestingly, for all the questions this crucial FEMA Fact Sheet addresses, it seems just as many were raised during a recent series of regional webinars sponsored by the Agency’s National Continuity Programs (NCP). Following are just five of the 18 most commonly asked questions and FEMA’s verbatim responses to them. The remaining questions and answers can be found online at https://www.fema.gov/fact-sheet/reconstitution-reopening-after-coronavirus-faq.
Question 1: What are the criteria to make the decision to reconstitute?
There are no specific criteria outside of the guidelines set by state and local public health departments and the “White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again”. Organizations should reconstitute in a way that supports essential functions while also considering the health and safety of employees, customers, communities, and stakeholders. The CDC created a number of decision tools to help organizations make decisions on how and when to open. FEMA developed an Exercise Starter Kit to help organizations and government agencies facilitate workshops on resuming operations based on reconstitution planning principles and the “White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.” The kit provides organizations with planning considerations and discussion questions to help facilitate internal conversations to navigate the complexities of reconstituting operations during COVID-19.
Question 2: What are some recommendations as to who should be the reconstitution manager?
While continuity program managers are focused on current continuity of operations and the performance of essential functions, the reconstitution manager should focus on planning and managing the recovery of the organization, including human resources, facilities, personnel, and systems. The reconstitution manager should have institutional knowledge, planning experience and be resourceful with their engagement with internal and external stakeholders. The reconstitution manager should also be familiar with the organization’s essential functions and able to discuss priorities and instituting a phased approach to reconstituting with leadership.
Question 3: Should the pandemic/reconstitution plan language be different from the continuity plan?
It is up to each organization how the continuity plan and associated plans are organized. The Continuity Resource Toolkit has a Continuity Plan Template For Non-Federal Entities and Community-Based Organizations to assist organizations with drafting a continuity plan that addresses all emergencies. Reconstitution is a section within this plan template, while the pandemic plan would be considered a separate, but coordinated, annex or plan.
Question 4: Is there a suggested time interval in a phased reconstitution plan such as 20 percent increments every two weeks?
There is no suggested time interval between phases of reopening. Based on what we know about virus ability to remain dormant for 14 days, some organizations are using 14 days as a benchmark. However, 14 days may not be feasible for all organizations, which is why the example of one-, three-, or seven-day phases was used in the webinar. There is no one model that would help every organization. Every organization is different and should do what works best for them based on their essential functions, state and local public health guidelines, and gubernatorial guidance on phase or occupancy requirements for reopening.
Question 5: How frequently should an organization communicate with staff?
Organizational leaders should determine how often and by what means they communicate with staff. During reconstitution after any emergency, FEMA suggests maintaining regular communication with employees regarding timelines, responsibilities, and other important information for returning to the workplace.
Much like ending the pandemic itself, reconstituting operations is a challenge all its own. The best any state, local, tribal and territorial government or private sector organization can do is stay informed, stay safe, and just as important, stay the course. Better days are ahead.