Not Made for TV: The Critical Behind-the-Scenes Continuity Mission
Back in the public spotlight for the first time since the Cold War thanks to the new ABC drama Designated Survivor, Continuity of Government (COG) is a lesser-known mission in the portfolio of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Federal Emergency Management Agency. As a concept, its origins lie in the dawn of the atomic era, when the new possibility of simultaneous nationwide devastation created the need for contingency plans for the worst cases imaginable.
While the nuclear threat remains, in recent years the focus of COG has expanded to include scenarios that are less extreme but still capable of disrupting the essential workings of Government in one or more parts of the country. Such risks include cyberattacks, damage to critical infrastructure, and – yes – terrorist attacks like the decapitation strike on the State of the Union Address portrayed on Designated Survivor.
To adequately prepare for this broader range of threats, and to meet public expectations of Government stability during a catastrophe, DHS must embed the ‘whole community’ concept into the COG mission space. The idea of whole community, tested in conventional emergency management settings, recognizes the roles and responsibilities of the different levels of Government, institutional actors, and private actors – and the importance of their working together before, during, and after a crisis.
Just as regular emergency management requires collaboration from many diverse stakeholders, effective Continuity of Government depends on many different actors. If a city or county government fails, or if businesses or residents don’t know how to access critical government services due to an incident, then COG efforts are inadequate.
Avoiding such a fate requires the Government to educate and continuously involve Other Federal Agencies (both inside and outside the National Capital Region); state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; the private sector; and even individual citizens. Only by working collectively and collaboratively at all levels can governments, and the institutions and individuals on whom they rely, develop a continuity capability that can maintain essential functions operational during catastrophes.
“Continuity of Community” offers the best hope for all survivors – Designated and otherwise.
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