FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
The best defense against the unexpected is to be prepared for any scenario. The Defense Logistics Agency held a Continuity of Operations Plan exercise Oct. 25-27 to be ready if – or when – disaster strikes.
The COOP training was part of a national-level exercise that focuses on continuing operations in emergency situations, said Army Col. David Stewart, director of mission assurance for DLA Logistics Operations.
“It’s a fully integrated, functional continuity exercise that really tests the mission-essential functions of all of the government agencies,” Stewart said.
The exercise tested DLA’s ability to stay functional “on America’s worst day, when something happens and headquarters can’t communicate,” said Will Bailey, DLA Logistics Operations’ exercise director.
COOP exercises can simulate any kind of event, from a natural disaster or widespread virus to terrorism or cyberattacks, he said.
Seventeen members from DLA’s emergency relocation group traveled to an undisclosed alternate location for the exercise. Four employees participated remotely.
The COOP covers tasks like traveling to the alternate site and ensuring communications systems, desks and other resources are available. The exercise also demonstrates that the Agency Synchronization and Operations Center can function at the remote location and that DLA leaders can conduct business, said Tyrone Jeter, DLA’s enterprise continuity manager who has been participating in COOP exercises for 15 years.
As the Defense Department’s combat support agency for logistics, resiliency is important for DLA’s headquarters and major subordinate commands to serve the warfighters and whole-of-government partners in emergencies, Stewart said.
“We have to make sure that we're agile and maintain flexibility to continue missions, even if the headquarters is affected or degraded or disrupted,” he added. “Those MSCs still have to be able to function and do their mission in support of the Department of Defense. It's helpful to have these exercises that not only test the headquarters’ processes and procedures, but also test the MSCs’ processes and durability to support the warfighter and our other customers as well.”
Stewart said the exercise was a good start after not holding the exercise in two years due to COVID-19.
“It’s a graduated, deliberate plan to increase our confidence in our systems and processes,” Stewart said. “This event was the first in a series of three, and we're excited about making more progress and advancing in our resiliency in the next two exercises that are planned over the horizon.”
Team building also was an important takeaway from the exercise. It’s vital to be comfortable with the people you work with and build mutual trust before an emergency happens, Stewart added.
Bailey described returning to COOP exercises after the pandemic as a crawl, walk, run scenario where employees looked for potential issues. It was also an opportunity for new employees to participate and learn the process, he said.
DLA executed its COOP plan through the COVID-19 pandemic as employees teleworked or relocated outside of headquarters. Stewart said it demonstrated that DLA has the ability and flexibility to operate and perform mission-essential tasks in a telework environment.
“Telework becomes another capability that we can use to still be able to function and communicate and complete our tasks and functions,” Stewart said.
DLA’s COOP is more than a written document to keep on a shelf, Bailey added, and exercises are key to demonstrating DLA’s ability and resiliency to operate during emergencies.