QUALITY SYSTEMS & ANALYTICS
Southeast ColLABorators Convene Virtual Tabletop Exercise
By Tina Su , MPH , manager , Quality Systems and Analytics
In March and April 2021 , the Southeast ColLABorators ( SEC ) regional consortium convened three , two-hour virtual tabletop exercise sessions to assess the coordination and communication between members of SEC and their continuity of operations plans ( COOP ). Averaging about 25-30 participants per session , SEC tackled the following hypothetical scenarios that would impact public health laboratory operations : a novel respiratory virus in Kentucky , an earthquake affecting Tennessee and South Carolina , and flooding in the Carolinas . An opening session to set the stage for the group on goals and expectations and a closing webinar to discuss major lessons learned bookended the three exercises . Staff from eight of the nine states representing the SEC participated , including its newest member , Louisiana .
Marie-Claire Rowlinson , PhD , D ( ABMM ), assistant laboratory director / CLIA laboratory director , Florida Department of Health Bureau of Public Health Laboratories and Matt Johnson , division director , Kentucky Division of Laboratory Services , served as the main facilitators for the series , and were supported by laboratory staff who developed the hypothetical exercise scenarios . When necessary , the group utilized APHL ’ s Public Health Laboratory System Database
( PHLSD )— an online , comprehensive test and equipment inventory built specifically for public health laboratories — to determine capabilities of consortium states and develop plans for unexpected events that cause a disruption in services . The participants also discussed surge capacity capability of SEC based on testing , personnel and equipment already on hand , and how to best strengthen partnerships and prepare for worst-case scenarios .
The Southeast ColLABorators regional consortium
As a result of completing the tabletop exercises , the SEC proposed several afteraction activities , including :
1 . Utilize the PHLSD as well as keep it as current as possible .
2 . Review each laboratory ’ s COOP , paying close attention to its strengths and weaknesses and consider many potential yet different scenarios ( i . e ., natural disaster , equipment unavailability , ransomware ).
3 . Discuss what is considered essential testing and how to manage information exchange and interoperability .
4 . Establish memorandums of agreement / understanding when necessary .
5 . Contact the state EMAC coordinator and Region IV Unified Planning Coalition to ensure that each PHL has the correct emergency contact information and possibly participate in state emergency meetings .
6 . Add resources to APHL ’ s SEC SharePoint site .
7 . Revisit this tabletop exercise at a future SEC in-person meeting to discuss progress made as a consortium and address the opportunities for improvement identified during this event .
With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting day-to-day operations , the series was an invaluable learning experience for the consortium and a timely review of their individual COOP .
“ This exercise highlighted how we , as a regional consortium , can help each other ; not just in times of need , but in preparing for potential times of need ,” Johnson reflected . “ One outcome of this exercise that I think needs to be implemented is an annual assessment of each public health laboratory COOP , and this will be a goal for the SEC members . I feel that many public health laboratories focus on preparedness , but rarely review and update their COOP . Advocating for integration into your state ’ s emergency management meetings is another big win , if completed . There is no better time than now to increase [ our ] visibility and to have our voices heard and needs delivered .” n
26 LAB MATTERS Summer 2021