Continuity of Operations Plan Improvement Tool for Public Health Laboratories

Published in: Association of Public Health Laboratories (February 2020)

Posted on on March 12, 2020

by Shoshana R. Shelton, Amanda Wicker, Stuart S. Olmsted

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Laboratories play an essential role in public health and safety. Laboratory testing generates critical data that is used to make informed decisions about the implementation of preventative measures and development of effective policies to protect the public from unforeseen conditions, hazards, and threats. As such, testing at public health laboratories must be resilient to disruptions caused by natural or man-made disasters. Recent incidents, such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria, have demonstrated the importance of continuity of operations planning for public health laboratories.

In particular, public health laboratories must have in place a continuity of operations plan (COOP). The laboratory COOP is a comprehensive, pre-event plan that describes the procedures, policies, and arrangements necessary for a laboratory to respond quickly and effectively to a wide variety of possible disruptions or threats.

Public health laboratories are in various stages of development of their COOP. While all but three state laboratories have a COOP, the extent to which they have tested their COOP varies. This testing is critical for confirming the accuracy and appropriateness of their continuity of operations planning, and uncovering gaps or incorrect assumptions during an exercise allows the opportunity for correction before an event occurs. The Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) contracted with the RAND Corporation to build upon RAND's past work for APHL in 2011 (Olmsted et al., 2012) to update the previously developed tabletop exercise and pilot test it in four laboratories. To inform development of the exercise, RAND also reviewed a convenience sample of voluntarily submitted COOP.

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