Wednesday, October 14, 2015 –
FORT MCCOY, Wis. - The 88th Regional Support Command provides a vast array of services and support to more than 55,000 Army Reserve service members and civilians across its 19-state area of responsibility.
To ensure these vital functions continue in the event of a natural, manmade or technological disaster, the 88th RSC conducted a Continuity of Operations Plan Exercise on Fort McCoy, Wis., Oct. 14.
The unannounced exercise began when members of the 88th RSC’s Crisis Action Team, or CAT, received a late night message.
“88 RSC Building 60 has suffered a fire and lost power to include backup generator,” the message stated. “Personnel are prohibited from entering the workplace, as it remains unsafe. The 88 RSC will exercise its COOP PLAN.”
Michael Bryant, 88th RSC Director of Plans and Training, helped lead the exercise and played a key role in drafting the commands COOP.
“Our Continuity of Operation Plan, or COOP, is basically a plan in place if the 88 RSC cannot occupy building 60 at Ft. McCoy to do its day to day support work for the Army Reserve units in our area of operation,” Bryant said. “An alternate location would be named where a team of hand pick personnel from certain directorates would meet to work out how the command would continue to do its mission and how long until personnel can get back to normal operations.”
In accordance with the plan, CAT members met at a designated alternate location, established communications, began accountability procedures and discussed how the COOP would unfold in a real-world event.
CAT members consist of designated individuals from each directorate who are always on call and prepared for activation in the event of COOP initiation.
“The Crisis Action Team assists the chief of staff and their individual directorate in identifying problems and finding solutions quickly so operations can continue,” Bryant said. “The team keeps everyone informed of what is going on and when the RSC can get back to normal operations. The directorates need to keep functioning and keep the day to day mission going.”
The CAT considers many factors when planning for a wide range of emergencies that could require a COOP.
According to Bryant, this could include not having access to needed computers, specialized programs or Department of Defense networks.
“They would not be able to do their job and it could affect the RSC mission. Even though we have backups to the backups, there are certain personnel in the building that do specific tasks that affect the day to day mission of the RSC,” Bryant said.
Charles Hudson, 88th RSC Chief of Staff, initiated the COOP EX.
“Continuity of Operations is a United States federal government initiative, required by U.S. Presidential directive, to ensure that agencies are able to continue performance of essential functions under a broad range of circumstances,” Hudson explained.
Army Regulation 500-3, U.S. Army Continuity of Operations Program Policy and Planning is the guiding doctrine for the 88th RSC COOP, said Hudson.
“This regulation details Army Continuity Program policy in accordance with Department of Defense guidance, ensures continuity of mission essential functions under all circumstances,” Hudson stated. “It establishes the requirement for annual continuity exercises; and requires centralized coordination of alternate headquarters and emergency relocation facilities.”
During the COOP EX, the chief of staff led the CAT members through a series of scenarios ranging from minor events resulting in a few hours of disturbance in operations to catastrophic events that required permanent relocation of headquarters operations.
“The COOP’s priority of effort is to ensure mission essential functions are met,” Hudson said, “and then to ensure minimum degradation of customer support to commands within the 88th RSC geographic area of responsibility.”
These priorities are based on what tasks must continue without interruption; what tasks can be deferred no longer than 48 hours; what can be deferred no longer than seven days; and what may be deferred until normal operations are restored.
The mission for its customers must continue no matter where the 88th RSC is operating from, said Bryant.
“All U.S. Army Reserve Command units are expected to operate on a daily basis no matter what their mission or size,” Bryant said. “The 88 RSC area of operation is very large, with a great number of employees and customers that depend on us every day.”
Bryant added that practice makes perfect and if anyone has had any type of emergency in their life, they know events can happen fast and can impact them greatly.
“Imagine how even a small event like a fire in our headquarters would effect this commands mission,” Bryant said. “Planning and training keeps us from being blindsided.”
During any type of interruption of operations, mission command as well as personnel accountability are musts, Hudson explained.
“Personnel accountability provides valuable information to all levels of the Army chain of command, allowing commanders to make strategic decisions which facilitate a return to stability,” Hudson said. “From the RSC perspective, it is useful to determine the number and types of personnel available to perform mission essential functions for the duration of the immediate emergency.”
In addition to traditional alert roster procedures to account for, the 88th RSC also uses the U.S. Army Disaster Personnel Accountability and Assessment System.
“Accountability is essential,” stated Maj. Will Brown, 88th RSC Adjutant.
“From small fires to large scale natural disasters, ensuring we can verify that our Soldiers and Civilians are safe, for me, was the most important part of this exercise,” Brown said.
Hudson said he knows firsthand how important it is to have a COOP in place in the event of a natural disaster.
“The ability to implement the COOP was instrumental to recovery operations at Equipment Concentration Site – 66 at Fort Leonard Wood when it was struck by a tornado on December 31st, 2010,” Hudson explained.
“Fortunately this was a Federal Holiday or we would have experienced loss of life. As it was, we lost $2.7M in equipment destroyed, $3.4M in equipment damage, and $5.5M in facilities repair and replacement,” Hudson continued.
“We accounted for 100% of ECS personnel that day, none were impacted personally, and most were called in to work over the weekend to secure equipment and facilities, account for property and begin the slow recovery process,” Hudson said.
“It took nearly a year for ECS-66 to recover from this event and much of that time was spent operating in temporary facilities elsewhere on Fort Leonard Wood. In addition, warehouse operations had to move 140 miles to an available warehouse at Weldon Springs Local Training Area in Saint Charles, Mo., Hudson said.
“Given this real-world scenario,” Hudson said, “a COOP for the 88th RSC Headquarters is very important.”
During the exercise Bryant collected feedback that will help shape future COOP training and readiness.
“I thought the COOP EX went well, small steps to start. There was a lot of good input from the Crisis Action Team and the chief of staff was pleased with the results,” said Bryant. “Each section identified to participate showed up, found the location and communicated back with their directorates.
The 88 RSC is in good shape for our future readiness, but it is always changing. We are always updating the COOP and we will continue to prepare for the unexpected.”