Continuity Planning

What is continuity planning?

Our work is vulnerable to unplanned events:  perhaps an earthquake that damages our classrooms and labs, perhaps a hard drive failure that destroys someone's irreplaceable data.

Good stewardship (not to mention self-interest) requires that we understand and anticipate the events that could threaten our mission, and plan ahead so that our institution can remain viable.

Continuity planning addresses that need.  A continuity plan describes:

  • How we might carry on our teaching, research, service, and support functions under conditions of diminished resources: loss of space, loss of equipment, loss of IT infrastructure, loss of some of our people.
  • How we might rapidly resume these functions if they've been interrupted by an unplanned event.
  • How we can prepare.  This is most important of all, because "a stitch in time does indeed save nine."  A good continuity plan will include a to-do list for readiness.  We call this an Action Item List.  Action Items are things that we could do to limit our vulnerability, to lessen the damage, to make it easier to recover.  Our Action Items usually include low-hanging fruit that can be done now, as well as actions that we can't afford now, but can be considered for future allocations of resources.

Why is this important?

Any prolonged disruption of our teaching and research poses a dual threat.  First, there is the obvious damage to the education of our students and the research of our faculty.  Second, there is a more subtle, long-term threat: a reduction in the quality of our university due to migration of our faculty and students to other institutions.  Hence a speedy rebound from any major disaster is of paramount importance.

The campus has adopted a very specific continuity goal: to continue teaching, research, and public service through any crisis-event; or if that is not possible, to resume our teaching , research, and service functions within 30 days of any interruption.  This does not mean that every building will be open, every class will be taught, and research will be humming along as before.  It DOES mean that core classes must be taught, that a substantial number of research projects must be back underway, and that students, faculty and the citizens of California see recovery happening quickly and competently.

Does continuity planning focus on big disasters only?

Emphatically not.  Disaster-readiness is good management. Many of the practices that prepare us for the Big One prepare us just as well for lesser events.  Proper backup reduces ALL data risks; a handy emergency phone list can serve normal needs as well as emergency needs; proper training and cross-training of staff are fundamental to daily operations.

Why do departments need to do this planning? Why not do one campus plan that covers everything?

The campus has done a multitude of things, over three decades, to prepare for disaster — including a campus business continuity plan in 2001.  The campus plan recognized that preparing for disaster requires the engagement of all levels of the organization.  Hence it recommended that colleges/schools/departments do continuity planning.

Our campus is highly decentralized, with much decision-making at levels below the campus leadership level.  Such decentralization puts a limit on the efficacy of top-down planning.

Finally, the nature of our continuity planning process (i.e., its emphasis on Action Items) means that college/school/departmental plans lead to a much-enriched campus plan.  Departments frequently identify Action Items that are properly the responsibility of campus leadership to carry out.  These Action Items "float upwards", and the outcome is additional Action Items at higher levels, especially the campus level.  In this way, departmental planning leads to campus-level action.

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