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Continuity of Operations Plans

What is a COOP?

A Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) will document how the division or department will perform essential operations during an emergency situation or long-term disruption, which might last from 2 days to several weeks. The plan will identify mission-critical functions, departmental communication methods, and alternate personnel, systems and locations. Each University division needs a COOP to ensure the University can respond effectively to a variety of situations.

The COOP planning process focuses on two key questions:

  1. What operations performed by the department are essential or central to the University community? Such operations might include providing food and shelter, utilities, security services, communication and computing devices, payroll, etc.
  2. What resources are required to continue to continue those essential operations during an emergency or disruption?

The University’s policy on Essential Services During Emergencies or Other Conditions is a valuable reference for planning what human resources are necessary to carry out the COOP.

How is a COOP Different from an Emergency Action Plan?

Emergency Action Plans are building-specific, short-term plans that details how occupants should evacuate or shelter-in-place, what type of fire alarm systems are present, and where to assemble if the building is evacuated. COOPs detail how an entire department or division would provide essential services and continue to function in an extended emergency event or disruption.

What are the Key Planning Principles When Writing a COOP?

There are certain key planning principles to keep in mind when writing your department's COOP.

  • The focus of a COOP should be on essential functions, not particular people. Essential functions and those who can fulfill those functions will change, depending on the situation.
  • The functions of a department do not change in a COOP; departments not normally responsible for food, shelter, security, etc. do not need to plan to assume those responsibilities.
  • The planning process is the most important aspect of the COOP exercise, even more so than the final product.
  • A plan will not cover all contingencies. Good planning, however, will allow for good decision making in the midst of a crisis.

What are Some Things to Avoid When Writing a COOP?

Some of the errors people have made when attempting to write a COOP include:

  • Planning for specific scenarios - For example, instead of planning for what to do in a flood, fire, etc., plan for what to do if your normal building was inacessible for any reason.
  • Getting caught up in extremes - It is unlikely that a crisis would result in a catastrophic loss of support. Try to divide the planning process into disparate silos, such as (1) loss of building/workspace, (2) loss of staff and (3) loss of utilities/networking functions.
  • Planning to the last emergency - While it's important to pay attention to "lessons learned", each incident is different and planning should take a broader scope.
  • Assuming the existing management heirarchy - It's important to remember that the normal decision-makers for a department may not be available in an emergency. It can be important to designate alternate decision-makers and ensure they are empowered to take action if necessary.

Documenting Your Division’s COOPs

The University has initiated a process to update the COOP for each division, starting with those that have responsibilities related to the safety of life and property and the University mission. EHS representatives are available to introduce the COOP planning process and template, and can help you set a timeline for completion. In the meanwhile, all University departments are highly encouraged to start the process immediately by using these online tools.

University COOP Template (Microsoft Word .docx)

University COOP Template (.pdf)

A Central, Secure Repository for all COOPs

EHS now manages a central and secure repository for all University COOPs. If your department already has a COOP, please call Derek Ziegler to make arrangements to add it to the repository ( or 258-8695).

For more results, please use the Princeton University search page.