CSIA’s Far North Queensland demonstration project, led by the Regional Social Development Coalition (RSDC), assembled members and stakeholders from the Whitsunday Isaac and Mackay Housing and Homelessness Action Network (WIMHHAN).

Seeking to identify how Industry can best enhance its continuity planning through peer to peer networks, RSDC Program Coordinator Antoinette du Toit says the project highlighted the benefits of getting together and preparing to support one another through times of disaster.

“They had previously discussed challenges they were experiencing, but never talked about business continuity planning – and in case of emergency, what they can do to really help each other,” Ms du Toit said.

Turning competition into continuity

While the stakeholders knew each other well, and had worked together in other areas, they were used to giving constructive feedback during grants processes, rather than reaching out to offer – and ask for – help.

The project kicked off with a half day workshop facilitated by RSDC and Mackay Regional Council bringing the WIMHHAN organisations together to take a deep dive on their current business continuity plans and where they could support each other.

Common concerns around safety, staffing and resources during a crisis were discussed, the session then split into small groups to evaluate and troubleshoot their plans. The results were collaborative and fruitful.

“The evaluations started simply with feedback like, ‘You forgot to make sure your clients have medication,’ turning into some great discussions that resulted in outcomes like two rental companies offering to share premises and staff,” Ms du Toit said.

Working together in the nick of time

With the Community Services Industry facing a changing social and economic landscape as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19), Ms du Toit says the timing was incredibly fortunate.

“The business continuity plans are definitely very fresh in participants’ minds, which is helpful in the current situation,” explains Ms du Toit.

“On the day, people still referred back to weather disasters as being the biggest issue in the region. I remember asking ‘what happens if there’s a fire?’ to highlight the need for adaptability. At the time, COVID-19 was not on anybody’s mind yet, but making sure plans were flexible was essential.”

Each organisation came away with the beginnings of a detailed business continuity plan. Contingencies were made for full or partial losses of staff, infrastructure and connectivity, along with plans for working with their peer network.

“A big moment came when participants realised they could share knowledge without having to compromise their confidential information,” Ms du Toit said.

The scalable and adaptable nature of the plans meant that organisations took away a range of key learnings that could be applied to fire, flood, and the current public health crisis.

“The good thing about having a plan in place is that when you have your monthly meetings, you can spend five minutes on business continuity, just like you would on strategic planning,” Ms du Toit said.

“It’s really important to have it as a fixed agenda item, to treat it as a living document. Regardless of your organisation, you’re always going to need a business continuity plan.”

Participant Jennifer Emmett, CEO of Connect Housing, says she found the workshop helped in connecting with different organisations and finding out how others plan.

“Discussions with stakeholders such as council were useful in understanding roles and local expectations in case of disruptions. The program helped to bring to the forefront of our staff members’ minds the importance of actively engaging with our business continuity plan,” Ms Emmett said.

“Our team was ready to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and we have quickly adjusted our operating model to support the health of our community with limited disruption to our services.”

Ready for action 

As COVID-19 and the economic crisis unfolds, Ms du Toit’s advice for community-based organisations is to use business continuity plans where they exist, as well as looking to peer networks for support.

“Don’t try and do it alone – find support in the community and with organisations,” Ms du Toit said.

“Even if you have to advocate for things, if you advocate as a group, it is so much easier than going it alone.”

“Your competition are your peers. You need to have that relationship, because they know your business as well as you do – so they’re probably the best people to help.”

CSIA has a suite of business continuity and pandemic planning resources to keep your organisation and workforce going.

CSIA in partnership with Industry and the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors is supporting business continuity planning through peer to peer demonstration projects.