Developing business continuity management within a local authority

Get free weekly news by e-mailAndy Pepper, senior emergency management officer, explains how Cardiff Council has set about developing BC plans to meet the requirements of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

Business continuity management is a relatively new concept to UK local authorities but with the introduction of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 it is now a statutory duty to develop business continuity plans for all of the functions that they provide. In many local authorities this duty seems to have fallen squarely on the emergency planners to address, quite often in isolation, but I believe that it requires a far wider and inclusive approach if success is to be achieved.

In Cardiff Council, a partnership approach is being used between emergency planners and the council’s risk department. The vision is to develop business continuity management in a logical and methodical way by producing a project plan with the objective of first targeting those services that are most critical and sensitive to the council.

The first step was instigated by senior management who appointed a ‘champion’ at corporate manager level whose role is to focus on pioneering and driving through the implementation stage. Business continuity management has been identified as the most effective and pro-active way of mitigating and managing risk across the council so it features prominently on the corporate risk register. This has ensured that business continuity management will maintain a high profile at senior level, which should ensure that the necessary time and resources are committed long term to the programme.

We then designed a process with supporting guidance which managers across the council can use to help formulate a basic plan for the services they provide. The process has been tailored to meet the specific requirements and subtleties of a local authority and is simple enough to follow without requiring labour intensive one to one interviews. The foundation of the process is based upon a methodology produced by Gloucester County Council but it has been further adapted to suit the needs of Cardiff Council. The process is accompanied with a supporting guide which has really helped to streamline the education of managers, because it answers all the basic ‘need to know’ questions about what business continuity management is and what it can do to help improve the resilience of managers’ functions and departments.

In order to help launch the business continuity management programme and to collate vital information to assist with the project we held two seminars for senior managers. The first seminar was a basic introduction to BCM, with the overall aim of raising awareness and highlighting the value adding aspects of this work. Selling BCM to managers was the easy part as the benefits of having a planned response weigh up quite nicely against the ‘pot luck’ consequences and probable mayhem that would ensue if an incident occurred and no planning had been undertaken.

The second seminar required managers to prioritise the services they deliver in to distinct categories which helped them focus on what really was time critical and what type of impacts a service interruption could have on their section/department, the council and also the many stakeholders. Cardiff is using four categories to classify services, which are based on recovery time and the possible scale of impacts if a service interruption was to occur.

Once all of this information has been collated across the council it will be quite clear which services are more critical and time sensitive than others and this will feed the planning process. The scale of the project is already becoming evident; Cardiff Council delivers over 650 functions, all of which need to be taken through the process and most will need to have a basic plan which will have a link to the service and corporate level documents. It may have been a bit of cart before horse but now we are looking to put a policy together describing how the council will deliver the commitments required from all parties.

Cardiff Council’s risk department acknowledges that business continuity management is an integral part of risk management and therefore they have a significant role to play in supporting its implementation. They are also well placed to assist managers with knowledge on internal and external risks and are able to provide sound advice on risk mitigation and BCM strategy development. Cardiff Council is making great strides with its aim of embedding a risk culture throughout the authority. Business continuity management will look to piggy back on this success and discussions are already beginning about how BCM can be integrated into policies, job descriptions and into future contractual agreements.

Cardiff’s Emergency Management Unit is taking the lead role in co-ordinating the Council’s business continuity management awareness and education programme. There is great value in having emergency planners leading this work stream because they are seen as being a helpful and independent service that sees the big picture, which is to ensure the corporate wellbeing of the council, its staff and its customers. They have much to offer in terms of organisational prowess and obviously have plenty of experience of how to construct a logical and user friendly plan format. They are also able to see how the corporate and service level and functional plans can dovetail with existing emergency plans to ensure that they complement each other.

In Cardiff we are developing the same Bronze, Silver and Gold framework for business continuity management which already exists for emergency response. This is a tried and trusted model which is easy to explain and is already accepted and practised at all levels of the council. The hope is that if Cardiff is faced with the impact of a major incident the emergency response and business recovery should flow seamlessly from one to the other. However, it is also appreciated that these are just the first steps of a long and continuous programme which will take time to become fully developed and accepted into the normal working practices of the council.

Conclusion
Many barriers exist in local authorities which will seek to interrupt or slow down the progress of this vitally important programme. Managers are constantly under pressure to hit performance targets and improve services, therefore the tangible benefits of a business continuity management programme must be evident in order to get them on board. Hitting managers with a big civil contingencies stick is not going to get them in the right frame of mind, so use knowledge, and enthusiasm with good examples of business interruptions that have occurred within their particular area of work to deliver the right messages. Lack of time is another common barrier to progression and it must be emphasised that this is precisely what managers will have during an incident if they have taken their services through the process and prepared their teams appropriately.

Measuring success in emergency management or business continuity can be difficult to quantify. Unless, periodically, a significant incident or disruption occurs to remind senior managers why they invest large sums of money in preparing for such events then their interest and commitment may begin to dwindle. So keeping these issues alive at the top table is a challenge for emergency planners and BCM professionals in order that we can continue to justify our existence and ensure senior managers always buy into the comfort blanket that we can provide.

In my opinion Cardiff Council’s methodology is realistic; it is based upon a partnership approach which is effective when you need to engage with so many different services. The size and complexity of the task needs careful management, it requires a team of people to tackle this with a good skills mix to ensure that all bases are covered and the maximum benefits and efficiencies can be squeezed out so that the whole organisation can profit.

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Date: 14th July 2006 • Region: UK Type: Article •Topic: Plan development
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