QUALITY SYSTEMS & ANALYTICS
COOP , Surge and ICS : Pacific Rim Consortium Conducts Summer Tabletop Exercise Series
By Tina Su , MPH , manager , Quality Systems and Analytics
In June and July 2021 , members of the APHL Pacific Rim Consortium convened a four-part virtual tabletop exercise . Each session was two hours , and the series began with an introduction to ensure all attendees were familiar with terminology related to the continuity of operations plan ( COOP ), surge testing and incident command system ( ICS ), and their importance and nuances . Sessions two and three focused on surge capacity and a COOP-related event , respectively . Finally , the group convened a “ hot wash ” in session four to review and summarize the learning that occurred during the first three meetings , as well as identifying after-action items for each participating laboratory .
Rob Nickla , RBP , M ( ASCP ), LRN coordinator and biosafety officer of the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory , Michael Stevenson , PhD , public health laboratory scientist from the Alaska State Public Health Laboratories , and Nicole Green , PhD , D ( ABMM ), director of the Los Angeles County Public Health Laboratory helped develop the series and served as facilitators for the exercises . Participants were walked through different presentations , resources , templates , hypothetical scenarios and discussions on how each laboratory would approach certain situations .
“ Tabletop exercises are a great way to test COOP and surge plans , and to help identify potential gaps ,” Stevenson said during the exercise series .
At the conclusion of the last session , each participating laboratory identified their strengths and opportunities for improvement . Strengths included :
• Fostering and nurturing existing strong interstate and intrastate partnerships , as well as with federal partners .
• Cross-training staff within the laboratory to operate different testing platforms .
• Familiarizing staff with laboratory operational functions to improve redundancy in case of a public health emergency .
• Sharing COOP , ICS and surge plans with all laboratory staff and key partners .
Opportunities for improvement included :
• Updating COOP , ICS and surge plans with more current laboratory-specific details and possible scenarios .
• Housing relevant documents in a location that is easily and remotely accessible by staff and partners .
• Improving information technology infrastructure to ease communication with other laboratories
• Establishing robust continuity of services if necessary .
• Identifying more sustained sources of funding to match laboratory needs during public health emergencies and surges .
• Continuing to conduct regional exercises with partners , like this tabletop exercise series .
• Ensure laboratory staff are provided basic ICS training to promote shared understanding of emergency operations .
In session three , John Laurance from the Alaska State Public Health Laboratories gave a firsthand account of the massive 2018 earthquake , namely what damage was incurred , how the COOP was activated , how staff responded to this emergency , and how federal partners and other public health laboratories stepped in to assist . He also discussed the laboratory ’ s response when a botulism outbreak occurred during their recovery period . Laurance shared lessons learned , such as how the COOP needs to be flexible and adaptable to unexpected situations . He also stressed the importance of staff understanding when an ICS is activated and their roles during the response .
Consortium members agreed that they would like to hold tabletop exercises more regularly moving forward , either annually or biennially depending on scheduling . The group posed different scenarios to address in future sessions , such as an IT-related event with cyberattack and ransomware , or a mass power outage event . Finally , as a wrap-up , each laboratory shared one activity they would commit to by the end of 2021 as a follow-up to the exercise , and many agreed to update their COOP and surge plans .
“ These joint exercises allowed us to meet Public Health Emergency Preparedness grant COOP requirements ,” Nickla reflected . “ But perhaps more importantly , they provided us an opportunity to directly develop our intended response plans with our neighboring public health laboratories and to learn from each other .” n
28 LAB MATTERS Fall / Winter 2021