Lab Matters Winter 2020 - Page 7

PUBLIC HEALTH PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE Putting COOP on the Table: California Tests its Ability to Respond During Fires By Samuel Abrams, MPH, PMP, specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response Public health laboratories (PHLs) are well equipped to perform under normal conditions, but an unexpected disaster can inflict devastating damage, leaving the facility inoperable or unsafe for work. To prepare for the unexpected, PHLs maintain a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). Simply stated, these plans outline specific procedures to maintain employee safety while safeguarding patient testing. While an updated COOP is key to PHL preparedness, regularly training staff on utilizing that plan is critical to ensure proper execution when an emergency occurs. Tabletop exercises provide a valuable training method, allowing participants to simulate an emergency scenario in a collaborative, discussion- based environment. Using their respective laboratory’s COOP, participants worked in small groups to respond to a multi-stage scenario that simulated power outages affecting significant areas of northern California and indefinite timelines for power restoration. Individuals shared opinions of what they thought was the best course of action to protect their staff and facility. The goal was to maintain operations safely and only shut down if necessary. Using the COOP as a reference and collecting feedback from other participants, the scientists navigated the exercise to ensure that the California laboratory system could meet vital testing needs despite the closure of some laboratories. Although participants were able to identify their laboratory’s critical testing needs, some discovered that their PublicHealthLabs @APHL Test, Train, and Exercise the Plan Initiate Continuity Planning Process COOP Planning Process Design and Build the Plan In October 2019, APHL presented a COOP tabletop exercise during the California Association of Public Health Laboratory Directors (CAPHLD) Annual Institute to test CAPHLD laboratories’ response to widespread power outages resulting from wildfires—a scenario that areas of California were encountering in real-time. Prepping for Action Distribute, Maintain and Update the Plan Determine Essential Functions Conduct a Risk Analysis COOP did not specify the personnel necessary to carry out those operations or categorize plans to provide testing at alternative locations. Participants discussed challenges such as notifying laboratory staff of facility issues without the use of modern communication methods such as cell phones and internet. Logistical issues with samples was a major concern, for example, notifying hospitals to ship patient specimens to alternate facilities or redirect those already en route. By the close of the exercise, participants had gained a better understanding of the components of their laboratory’s COOP and were primed to begin strengthening it. A comprehensive COOP provides detailed information on essential functions and personnel, continuity of communications and infrastructure, and minimizes disruptions to laboratory operations. APHL and CDC have developed several tools to assist laboratories with developing and implementing a COOP: CDC Lab Planning COOP Course: free training tool for laboratory personnel APHL Position Statement, Newborn Screening Contingency Planning APHL Guidelines for PHL COOP: guideline to assist PHLs in developing a COOP DIGITAL EXTRA: APHL is collaborating with member laboratories and CDC to revise the association’s Guidelines for the Public Health Laboratory Continuity of Operations Plan. The new document will include exercises and templates to assist with testing and evaluating a COOP. For more information on this project, please contact Sam Abrams at samuel.abrams@aphl.org. The Value of Exercise PHLs are encouraged to utilize tabletop exercises as a method for ensuring their staff are able to execute the details of their COOP. Exercising COOP provides a safe opportunity for individuals to address gaps before disaster strikes. In addition, regular review ensures that critical components such as staff contact information and essential testing needs remain up to date. Laboratory COOP requires a coordination of efforts among various personnel in the laboratory, and routine exercise is the most effective way to ensure both facility and staff are well prepared. n APHL.org Fall 2019 LAB MATTERS 5