Sustaining Critical Services - Continuity of Operations - A Toolkit for Public Health

Continuity of Operations

User’s Guide


The goal of the Sustaining Critical Services: Continuity of Operations toolkit is to help you develop and implement a continuity of operations plan.


  • Develop tools to advance BC planning for LHD’s in the areas of essential function identification, order of succession, vital resource management and human capital management and emergency operations center management
  • Develop tools to enhance leadership decision-making regarding allocation of resources across continuity and response operations
  • Develop plans to integrate BC operations into incident command

Getting Started

This web toolkit consists of ten tools. The first seven will assist health departments with pre-event continuity of operations planning before an emergency occurs. The last three will assist health departments to manage the impacts of an emergency or disaster on business operations as it is happening.

Each tool is supplemented with links to helpful resources – blank templates, completed samples, and additional background materials. The ten planning exercises can be completed without these additional resources, but they are provided with the intent of helping agencies save time and serve to further clarify the strategies in this toolkit. Links can also assist planners who wish to delve deeper into continuity of operations planning.

By completing the ten tools in this web toolkit, you are greatly improving your department’s readiness to activate its continuity of operations plan. The tools can be used as individual planning exercises, but you will benefit from following the sequencing and links indicated. And, you will achieve the best results and minimize overlapping efforts by completing all ten tools in order.

This toolkit does not include tools to help you develop a robust disaster recovery program—another important component to your business resiliency. Disaster recovery programs create the capability to retrieve lost data and restore access to critical systems following a catastrophic disaster. For more information on disaster recovery, view this toolkit produced by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers:
IT Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Tool-kit: Planning for the Next Disaster (June 2007)

You may wish to charter a continuity of operations workgroup representing workers from your major operating units to assist with and review products generated by this planning effort. A sample charter for such a group is included.

How the tools are designed to be used

Each tool has its own page on the Sustaining Critical Services website. The landing page for each tool contains instructions for completing that planning exercise. On these landing pages, you will find the following information:

  • A succinct summary of the tool’s purpose and benefit.
What You Need Before Starting This Work
  • Prerequisites for the planning exercise.
  • Discussion of ideal sequencing for completing this tool relative to other tools.
If You Have Just a Little Time to Spend
  • The quick and dirty approach to completing this exercise.
  • The bare-minimum you should have in place to enhance your COOP capability in this area.
Steps to Completion
  • Step-by-step instructions for using this tool.

You will find this additional information on following pages:

If You Have More Time to Spend
  • The optimum approach to completing this planning exercise.
  • Tips on how to leverage this planning exercise to further enhance your COOP capability.
Where This Leads You
  • What you can do after completing this exercise.
  • Next steps for your COOP planning.
Pitfalls to Avoid
  • Observations based on PHSKC’s experience in implementing this tool. Gives insight into where this planning process or utilization of these products can get derailed.
How You Know You Got it Right
  • Observations based on PHSKC’s successful experience implementing this tool. These are often anecdotes about a time when this tool or product was utilized by PHSKC and the benefit we experienced.
Considerations for Rural Health Departments
  • Observations on how the tools might be adapted for use by small or rural health departments.
Resources to Support This Tool
  • Links to templates, samples, and further resources to assist you in the completion of this exercise.

Each tool’s webpage is peppered with helpful call outs, links to glossary terms, and clickable links for those who wish to delve deeper.

FEMA’s Continuity Evaluation Tool is cited throughout the toolkit as a method for health departments to either assess gaps in a particular capability area prior to beginning the planning exercises, or assess after implementation, which gaps remain. This is the agency’s recommended self-assessment tool for government agencies. After completing the ten tools included in this toolkit, the number of “yes” responses to FEMA’s Continuity Evaluation Tool should increase.

Resources Discussed in the User’s Guide:

Table of Contents

User Guide


Prioritizing Critical Functions


Line of Succession Planning


Delegations of Authority


Identifying & Notifying Critical Staff


Identifying & Notifying Critical Vendors


Contingency Planning for Critical Services


Exercising Your Continuity of Operations Plans


Integrating Continuity of Operations with Incident Command


Managing Resources Across the Response-Continuity Continuum


Monitoring the Status of Critical Functions During an Emergency