It’s hard to forget the days that unfolded in March 2020. Even after watching Covid-19 spread rapidly around the world, Americans were still 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 a moment of crisis, many local governments were caught off guard and failed to maintain operations at the usual capacity.
Slow-moving bureaucratic processes got even slower. IT teams scrambled to figure out remote work options and capabilities for staff. 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.
The pandemic shined a spotlight on a need for a government continuity strategy for municipal and county level governments of all sizes. The geopolitical crisis that is now unfolding in Russia and Ukraine and may spillover into the cyber realm is further validation that public workers have no time to waste as another crisis situation arises.
Follow along for everything you need to know about local government continuity.
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 private and public entities, natural disasters, a public health emergency like the global Covid-19 pandemic, or even something like a snowstorm that shuts roads. A COG strategy plans for before, during, and after an emergency situation.
Why is Government Continuity Important?
“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” - Oscar Wilde
Almost no one could have anticipated the global pandemic that shocked the world and changed many facets of our society as a whole. The cascade of abrupt changes that came with international lockdowns left many local governments dysfunctional and unavailable to perform critical community functions. 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.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease , new emergency situations loom in our future that have direct implications for local government.
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
Research from Comparitech showed that in 2020, 79 (reported) ransomware attacks were executed against U.S. government organizations, totaling an estimated $18.88 billion in downtime and recovery costs and illustrating the severe risks that state and local governments face when it comes to cyberattacks.
Progressing into 2022 - especially as the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has intensified, it’s clear agencies must be prepared to proactively protect themselves against cyberattacks 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. Local governments, as well as critical infrastructure within their jurisdictions are prime targets. Hire well educated 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 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 (and constituent) data and potentially the cost of 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 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, Should the Public Sector Be Using Cloud-Based Software or 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 modern technology that’s 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 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 in play for government continuity and delivery of services. Relevant government officials should continue to be able to converse with one another. Federal officials from FEMA will need to have clear lines of communications with local officials. Constituents whose lives were upended will regularly need guidance and updates on the long road to recovery.
- 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.
- 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
Continuity of Government - In Conclusion
If Covid-19 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine is another tragic reminder.
You owe it to your community to keep the government afloat in the wake of a 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.
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.
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.
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, or a global pandemic.
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.
Training government officials on cybersecurity best practices 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
- 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 to Build a 15-Minute City
- 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
- Municipal Planning: Reclaiming Your City Streets
- Florida House Bills 667 and 1059: Latest Permit and Inspection Laws
- NJ Electronic Construction Permit Law: What it Means for Local Governments
- Pedestrian Zones & Bike Lanes: Improving City's Car Free Zones