It’s hard to forget the current events of the past few years, many of which left many Americans shocked and underprepared when they were forced to lockdown and go remote for work. Public sector workers were no exception.
While continuity of government plans are supposed to be in place to ensure that local, state, and federal governments can continue to function in times of crisis regardless of the preparedness of citizens, many local governments were caught off guard and failed to maintain operations at their usual capacity.
Slow-moving bureaucratic processes got even slower during times of crisis in the past few years. IT teams scrambled to figure out remote work options for government employees for staff during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Communication channels between government departments became non-existent for workers that relied on face-to-face interaction. Constituents often had no means to interact with local officials during a critical time. These are all issues that need to be addressed with a government continuity strategy.
The unorganized response from many local governments during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the wake of historic natural disasters all over the U.S has shined a spotlight on a need for a government continuity strategy for municipal and county level governments of all sizes. The ongoing geopolitical crisis in Russia and Ukraine has spilled over into the cyber realm, which serves as further validation that public workers have no time to waste as another crisis situation arises.
What is Government Continuity?
Continuity of government (COG) is the coordination of ironclad processes across Federal, state, county, municipal, and tribal governments to continue functioning in the event of a crisis situation.
Potential emergency situations that government entities of all sizes will need to consider vary from the very extreme to the very mundane. They include nuclear war, ransomware cyber attacks on public entities and their private sector partners, natural disasters, a public health emergency like the global Covid-19 pandemic, or even a snowstorm that shuts down roads. A COG strategy plans for before, during, and after an emergency situation.
Why is Government Continuity Important?
A critical aspect of government leadership is to expect the unexpected. However, almost no one could have anticipated the global pandemic or other natural disasters in recent years that have shocked the world and changed many facets of our society as a whole.
The cascade of abrupt changes that comes with facing emergencies such as national lockdown and government operation pauses left many local governments dysfunctional and unavailable to perform critical community functions or deliver municipal services. Had more local governments had a government continuity strategy in place that trained for remote work in the instance of an emergency, perhaps municipal and county governments could have acclimated more quickly and effectively.
New emergency situations loom in our future that have direct implications for local government, so your local government needs to be prepared
Local governments owe it to their community to have a game plan in place for any of the following circumstances:
Emergency Situations to Consider in Your Government Continuity Plan
1. Cyber Threats
The newest research regarding ransomware attacks shows that in 2023, 37% more ransomware attacks were executed against U.S. government organizations than the year before, with an average enterprise ransom payment exceeding $100,000. When these ransomware attacks occur they result in downtime and recovery costs for the municipality and illustrate the severe risks that state and local governments face when it comes to cyberattacks.
As the Russia-Ukraine situation intensifies, it's clear every government department must be prepared to proactively protect themselves against cyberattacks. This protection of your government data can be accomplished by using comprehensive security solutions and best practices capable of providing protection from endpoint devices to the cloud.
Cybersecurity is critical
Warfare is no longer just in the air and on the ground. Ransomware and the even more ominous, killware, attacks are increasing nationwide. Local governments, as well as critical infrastructure within their jurisdictions are prime targets for these attacks. Hire well educated government IT professionals to ensure your systems are cyber secure, move away from physical servers, and train government officials on the common ways hackers infiltrate the enemy.
Ransomware Cyber Attacks
Without a doubt, cybersecurity precautions and best practices should be a top priority for any municipal, county, state, and federal government COG emergency plan. Ransomware attacks against local governments are becoming frequently more common. An attack against your community could result in stolen private government/constituent data and potentially the cost a ransom in the millions or the cost to repair compromised systems.
To make matters worse, rising tensions between NATO and Russia have experts convinced that Americans should brace for a further rise in Russian cyber attacks.
For a more in-depth look at how to improve your government cybersecurity, explore the Local Government Cybersecurity: How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks guide.
What to include in your cybersecurity COG strategy?
Taking preventative measures to keep your government data safe and secure is critical to ensure ongoing continuity of your local government.
Here are some strategies to apply to ensure a cyber attack doesn’t freeze your local government’s systems or compromise data:
Store government data in the cloud
Cloud-based government data storage is much more secure than susceptible physical data servers. If you’re still using physical servers, move to cloud-based government software for digital storage of documents and regular data backup.
Learn more in the guide, Why Should the Public Sector Be Using Cloud-Based Software Over In-House Servers?
Train government employees on the best practices to avoid being hacked
Educate every department on the dangers of phishing scams, fake invoices, and other common hacking tactics, as well as preventative measures they can use like secure passwords and two-factor identification.
For more insight into training government workers, read the How to Train Government Workers on Cyber Security Attacks guide.
Hire IT officials that are motivated to innovate
Advancements in technology are hard to keep up with these days, especially for countless US municipality and county level governments using 20 year old technology systems. The IT department should be considering updating antiquated (and easily hackable) systems and replacing them with innovative government technology solutions that are cyber secure and substantially more efficient.
Learn more in our Local Government Information Technology Strategy guide.
Call in backup
In the event of a cyber attack, time is of the essence. Local governments should alert state and Federal agencies capable of providing additional support and expertise. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides resources for state, local and tribal Governments to better prepare for, and respond to cyber threats and active attacks. Agencies including CISA and the FBI can and should be consulted in the event of a data breach or cyber attack on local governments or critical infrastructure.
2. Natural Disasters
Devastating natural disasters pose a major threat to every community across the nation. Powerful hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, snowstorms, tornadoes and more are occurring more frequently and in places with no prior history of disaster. Many flood maps are out of date, meaning that properties not located in official flood zones and therefore not required to carry flood insurance, are now flooding more often.
Your government needs to have a disaster preparedness plan in place as a part of a holistic government continuity strategy. An effective plan will include regular disaster training for community members, communication channels between local government officials, constituents, and relevant Federal agencies.
What to include in your natural disaster COG strategy?
Regardless of your physical location, no community is completely safe from mother nature or man-made crises. To truly prepare a response plan to continue functioning as a government in the wake of a storm, you’ll need to consider the following:
Emergency communication channels across the board:
If a storm impacts your community, you owe it to your employees and residents to have emergency communication channels prepared for government continuity and delivery of services amid the emergency. Relevant government officials need the ability to continue to converse with one another and the community emergency response team to discuss how to protect residents.
Federal officials from FEMA will need to have clear lines of communications with local officials throughout the entire wake of a natural disaster. Constituents whose lives were upended will regularly need guidance and updates on the long road to recovery which is made possible with clear crisis communication channels established.
Coordinate remote work processes
If your local government didn’t master Zoom and remote working during the pandemic, don’t think you’re off the hook in the future. In the case that inclement weather, or a natural disaster makes access to the office impossible, or a cyber attack knocks internet access offline at city hall, you'll want employees to be able to work remotely without a reduction in productivity.
Master a hybrid government work schedule now, so that you can ensure continuity of government in a remote capacity if needed, even if you don't implement it until times of emergency.
Have CERT volunteers trained and on call
If you want continuity in government quickly after a natural disaster, your local government will need to recruit certified emergency response team volunteers as soon as possible and train them on your community’s full emergency preparedness plan. Once trained, they’ll be able to train other community members on how to prepare and react to natural disasters (and the communication channels they can leverage in the wake of a crisis,) and can be some of the first to respond in a search and rescue mission.
Study the FEMA Continuity of Government guidelines
Obviously, for a COG strategy to truly work, you’ll need to work alongside local, state, and federal government entities to overcome the hurdles of a natural disaster. This FEMA COG resource provides extremely insightful advice on mastering government operations and continuity before a storm unfolds.
For more insights on emergency preparedness for your community, read on:
- Disaster Preparedness: How Local Governments Build Resilient Communities
- What is Disaster Resilient Infrastructure?
- Local Government Wildfire Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Local Government Flood Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Local Government Tornado Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Local Government Winter Preparedness & Mitigation
- Local Government Landslide Mitigation: Disaster Planning for Mud & Rockslides
Local Government Continuity
If the past few years taught local governments anything it’s to expect the unexpected. The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine is another tragic reminder of this.
You owe it to your community to keep the government afloat in the wake of a crisis. Constituents rely on government officials and their services more than ever in a time of crisis. As a result, you’ll need to align on a COG strategy for any emergency type, be it a natural disaster, terrorist attack, pandemic, or cyber attack. Your local government leadership will need to align on all of the worst-case scenarios, and ensure that your hard work continues and the communication channels are open after an emergency unfolds. Overall, you can never be too prepared.
To keep your government data secure and government communication channels open, use your ARPA or Infrastructure Bill funds to acquire cloud-based government management software for your community. To learn more, book a free consultation with GovPilot.
Continuity of Government in the USA FAQs
1. What Does Continuity of Government Mean?
Continuity of government is defined by FEMA as, “Continuity of government is intended to preserve essential functions and the statutory and constitutional authority of all levels of government across the United States.”
For a local government, it means having a COG game plan in place for your community specifically, as well as emergency communication channels and action plans in place with state and federal government entities for when disaster strikes.
2. What Types of Emergencies Does a Government Continuity Strategy Need to Consider?
Your government should be prepared to function in any emergency situation that unfolds. That includes natural disasters, terrorism attacks, nuclear war, cybersecurity attacks, or another global pandemic. Your local government should consider ways to be both physically and digitally prepared for disaster, as either situation could leave your municipality out of work for weeks.
3. Why is Cybersecurity Critical to a COG Plan?
Cyber attacks are becoming more commonplace for public and private sector organizations. If a ransomware attack strikes your municipality, not only will your government be unable to function, but you risk losing invaluable government data forever.
Training government officials on cybersecurity best practices, ensuring your government data is backed up by cloud-based government technology, and moving away from susceptible in-house servers are critical to a COG plan.
4. How to Pay for COG Plan Implementations?
Federal stimulus funds approved during and pandemic were designed to allow municipal and county governments to embrace more secure digital infrastructure. Since any COG strategy needs to consider remote working functionality and cyber security protocols, you’ll be pleased to know that American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds are allowed to be used by local governments for upgrading broadband infrastructure and government technology.
To learn more about how federal funding can pay for your upgrade to government software, explore our guides
- American Rescue Plan Act Funds: What It Means for Local Governments
- Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: What It Means for Local Governments
- Government Digital Transformation: What it Means for Local Governments
- How to Recruit Government Workers
- Modern Government: Trends & Tech Shaping the Future of the Public Sector
- Local Government Employee Retention
- Digital Government Services: What E-Gov Tech Can Do
- How Municipalities Can Encourage Local Economic Development
- Best Court Management Software: What to Look For in Judicial Tech
- Best Software for Government Procurement
- Local Government RPA: How Government Automation Works
- Building Inspections 101: How Municipalities Can Improve Public Safety