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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How governments can craft a contingency plan for natural disasters

State and local governments provide valuable services for individuals, families and communities. When natural disasters strike, constituents rely on governments more than ever. Whether it’s a forest fire, a pandemic or a hurricane, government agencies must be prepared to provide continuity of service even in the midst of severe disruptions.

For many governments, the thought of drafting a contingency plan for future natural disasters in the midst of a pandemic can seem overwhelming. However, the recent and extraordinary wildfires in California remind us that natural disasters don’t wait in line. Once a disaster hits, it’s too late to start building plans for disruption contingencies and business continuity. Governments that want to be prepared must devote time and money early on and strategize a contingency plan before the disaster hits.  

The key to a successful contingency plan is a holistic approach to risk. Far too many government leaders get mired in the hypothetical particulars, trying to plan for the specific impact of an individual hurricane or a wildfire.

Instead, agencies should design their plans around what aspects of their operations are most susceptible to disruption during any natural disaster. The key is to build resilience into government operations as a whole and acquire the flexibility to meet challenges.

Risks and operational priorities will always vary across jurisdictions, but there are two areas of vulnerability that almost every government shares: the reliance on paper records and an overdependence on manual, in-office work.

State, local and government offices house essential records, critically important to the economy because they contain the essential legal and financial information that protect property rights and enable business transactions. If all records are stored in a single physical location, a natural disaster or other calamity, like an office fire where sprinklers damage paper records, will drastically impact those constituents that rely on government to protect their records.

The same holds true for manual, in-office work. Far too many governments’ core operations were essentially shut down by COVID-19 because their employees couldn’t safely access their office spaces and paper records. Widespread illness, social distancing regulations or evacuation orders could completely incapacitate a government workforce dependent upon in-house resources to do their jobs.

Both of these vulnerabilities can be addressed through a more integrated and comprehensive digitization effort. That makes a digital transformation initiative crucial to an agency’s overall disaster planning strategy. Digital records offer widespread accessibility and portability. To ensure that government services can continue to operate even in the face of a crisis, it’s essential that critical operations and infrastructure are digitized, automated or otherwise brought online.

Those worried about making a significant investment in digital transformation should know that the vast majority of digitization initiatives pay for themselves over time. Many state, and local government agencies drive additional revenue from online sales and convenience fees resulting in a return on investments of months. Agencies that lack the IT expertise to go digital on their own, can call on vendor partners to provide assistance and handle the specifics. More than any other single change, digitization can make a government more resilient in the face of disruption.

There’s no viable alternative to planning and investing early. Agencies must assess risks, identify core vulnerabilities and implement digital solutions now before the next natural disaster leaves them with more than they can manage.

About the Author

Ann Kirkbride is the business unit director for digital processing services at Avenu Insights & Analytics.

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