Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Building Resilience: Continuity of Operations Planning in the Transportation Sector

The transportation sector faces many unique challenges as an amalgamation of public and private sector entities. The transportation industry is comprised of many unique subcomponents including airports; seaports; railroads; trucking; and pipelines, to name a few. Within each of these subcomponents, there can be further division into passenger, cargo, and commodities. Each of these subcomponents require their own unique consideration to operations and resiliency when forming a Continuity of Operations (COOP) plan.

The industry is vital to the healthy operation and growth of the North American economy – the lifeblood of the United States’ (US) economic might, distributing goods, people, and services from coast to coast and back again. Any disruption to the flow of oxygenated blood in the body is a life-threatening event; likewise, transportation interruptions can create negative ripple effects that cascade through all sectors of the American economy. Moreover, transportation service disruptions from a localized event now have the possibility of leading to global negative impacts across a myriad of industries.

What is a Continuity of Operations Plan?

A Continuity of Operations plan provides a single framework for organizations to respond to all manner of disruptions or disasters in an organized manner to restore their organizations essential functions. Having this framework pre-established before a disruption strikes can lead to a more organized response than operating ad-hoc once a disaster has already occurred. Given the myriad of threats that the transportation sector faces today, creating a COOP plan can increase the resiliency of transportation-based businesses and organizations.

Current Threats Facing the Transportation Sector

The Transportation industry faces events with varying degrees of probability and impact daily. Countless instances of small storms, strike actions, infrastructure construction, and vehicular accidents lead to localized transit disruptions daily. Additionally, throughout the past decade there have been numerous significant events that have halted domestic and international transportation. For example in 2010 the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in Iceland severely disrupted European and transatlantic air travel for over a week. In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri led to transportation impacts that increased petroleum prices across the US.

Transportation operators also face the threat of human disruption; be it accidental or intentional. Simple accidents can cause devastating impacts, such as the container ship Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week. Modern international conflicts have also led to cyber campaigns targeting opposing countries’ vital industries, with transportation infrastructure prime targets. Not to mention cyber criminals perpetrating the same acts, but for profit instead of nationalistic aims.

Moreover, the COVID-19 Pandemic is one of the most unprecedented challenges the transportation industry has faced in modern time. The backlog of ships waiting offload at the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach stemmed from labor shortages due to pandemic related layoffs. Imports from increased consumer spending caused a whiplash effect catching the industry by surprise. While the pandemic led to record highs in cargo shipping, it negatively affected the airline industry. According to the International Air Transport Association in 2020 international air travel dropped 76% below 2019 levels, with domestic travel experiencing a 49% decline. US passenger rail reported a similar drop experiencing a 53% decline comparing March 2019 to March 2020.

Why create a Continuity of Operations Plan?

Federal Continuity Directive 1 (FCD 1) and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (HSPD-20) require all local, state, tribal and territorial government agencies, and private sector owners of critical infrastructure and key resources to create a COOP Plan. While this mandate does not apply to all transportation sector stakeholders, this emphasis from the federal government shows the importance placed upon the process.

Having this pre-existing structure to respond to disruptions can increase a business’s ability to quickly adapt from day-to-day operations into an elevated crisis state to restore essential functions. The faster essential services can be restored shortens the length of disruption and the time required for incident recovery.

Additionally, a COOP plan can increase organizational resilience. This is important for transportation sectors as they often play a pivotal role in recovery from large scale disasters. Without access to the capabilities that the transportation industry provides, the personnel, equipment, and materials necessary for community recovery cannot make it where they are needed most.

The Way Forward

Given the emphasis placed upon COOP Planning by the federal government, there is significant funding assistance available to transportation sector stakeholders. The recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will provide billions of dollars in funding for the transit industry including $8 billion for airports, $1.7 billion for Amtrak, and $30.5 billion for public transportation agencies.

In addition to this one-time funding stream, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has numerous yearly preparedness grant programs that can be taken advantage of, many of which are specific to the transportation sector. The Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) focuses on public transportation systems (which include intra-city bus, ferries and all forms of passenger rail) while the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGP) and Intercity Passenger Rail (IPR)-Amtrak program focus on their specific method of transit. Additionally, the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP) provides funding specifically for seaports.

Hagerty Can Help

Building resilience into every facet of operations enables a harmonized response to disruptions to facilities, personnel, and resources. Hagerty has experience developing new and validating existing COOP Plans and Continuity of Government (COG) Plans; conducting business impact analysis (BIA); identifying essential functions (EFs); as well as exercising and evaluating plans, and we can do the same for your organization.

Evan Feinstein is a Managing Associate and homeland security subject matter expert (SME) in the Preparedness Division and supports Hagerty’s exercise, active threat, and continuity portfolios. Prior to joining Hagerty, Evan served as an Active-duty Intelligence Officer with the US Army.