Building a Better COOP

October 5, 2016 by School of Medicine Webmaster

As William Butler Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

I’m not so sure we need to worry about Yeats’ apocalypse, but accidents do happen. Things do, from time to time, fall apart. Fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, widespread disease, ice or snow storms. These things happen. Just ask Irene Tostanoski, Administrator for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

John DeSilva, School of Medicine Emergency Preparedness, Response and Security Coordinator

John DeSilva, School of Medicine Emergency Preparedness, Response and Security Coordinator

On a Friday evening last May, an aged and stressed plumbing elbow joint failed in the wall between the chair’s executive assistant’s office and the bathroom next door. Water flooded the office and ran down the hallway, flooding many other offices and a hundred feet or more of carpeted hall. “Luckily, one of our gyn-onc physicians was here performing a late surgery and stopped by the office to complete the Op notes on the EPIC system,” says Tostanoski. “If she hadn’t been here, this could have been catastrophic.”

The flooding displaced many in the department while the carpets were dried out with industrial-sized fans. “The actual water clean-up was quick. But, long-term, dealing with the carpets and the musty smell — which caused some of our team members to become sick — that took a while to fix. We had to relocate our folks for a while until it could be sorted out.”

Accidents do happen. However, being prepared for them can mitigate their impact upon our lives and our work. Tostanoski says, “We need a list of off-site locations where team members can sit and set up work in order to continue operations. But with the new phone system, which is computer-based, it’s not as simple as plugging in a phone and forwarding calls. This requires planning.”

Which brings us to COOPs.

The Commonwealth of Virginia requires state agencies (such as UVA) to have a Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP). As the School of Medicine Emergency Preparedness, Response and Security Coordinator, I partnered with the dean’s office to review and strengthen their existing COOP to better enable our ability to recover from an adverse event. During an emergency, the COOP will guide the school. I will be reaching out to the departments to assist with the development of the departmental-level plans, such as the one experienced by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

These plans provide guidance on how to continue or rapidly restore mission-essential functions in an emergency. These functions include:

  • Providing academic programs to students;
  • Ensuring the safety and well-being of the University’s students, faculty, staff, patients, contractors, and visitors;
  • Providing health services; and
  • Conducting critical research.

While being prepared on a school- and department-wide level is vital, we should also be personally prepared. Do you have adequate supplies on hand? Things like medicine or non-perishable food? (Extra cans of soup in your cabinet can, literally, be a life-saver!) Do you keep your car’s gas tank at least half-full during the winter months? Have you discussed with your family how you will communicate with each other in an emergency? If we’re not prepared, if our family is not taken care of, we will be distracted. It is only natural. As a result, however, we will be less effective in performing our work that is critical to the Health System and those that depend on us. The patients, students, and science could feel the effects of such diversion. And that is something we want to avoid.

Lastly, a few reminders:

If you have questions about COOPs or how to be personally prepared for an emergency, please contact me at 982.1533 or

John DeSilva
School of Medicine Emergency Preparedness, Response and Security Coordinator

Filed Under: Operations