What Is the Continuity of Operations Plan?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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The continuity of operations plan, or continuity of government plan, is a strategy put into place by the United States government that would ensure the government remained able to carry out essential functions in a national emergency. The plan was originally conceived during the Cold War, but was first put into place after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001. Originally, it was a plan put into place by President Dwight Eisenhower to deal with the ramifications of a possible nuclear strike, and to ensure the survival of federal government operations. Today, the governments of many countries, and even corporations have developed similar plans.

A number of things must happen in order for the continuity of operations plan to successfully continue to carry out the functions of government. Each agency, along with the executive office of the president, is responsible for putting into place orders of succession, delegations of authority, continuity of facilities, along with identifying what the essential functions are that must be carried out. In some cases, if the president is incapacitated or cannot otherwise be reached during a time of emergency, the continuity of operations plan could give some other individuals limited authority that usually only the president has.


The continuity of operations plan has four distinct phases. The first is readiness and preparedness of the operation. The second is the activation and relocation of essential services and personnel in the event that an emergency does take place. The third phase is the full scale continuance of emergency operations. The fourth phase is the reconstitution, which generally means the resumption of normal operations after the emergency is resolved.

Individual agencies may, from time to time, be forced to put in a department or agency-specific continuity of operations plan that applies only to that particular agency. For example, if a headquarters comes under attack or is damaged by a natural disaster, the plan would be activated. This may not result in a great deal of outside attention, especially if the emergency is accidental in nature, but does provide the agency a chance to not only continue operations, but also better understand how it may react to an emergency on a larger scale.

This type of plan could require great personal sacrifice on the part of senior-level officials. When the plan is activated by a perceived imminent threat, a government that could be used to run the country in an emergency is formed at a secure location. This could include senior-level staff from the various departments, who are asked to leave their families for extended periods of time to take part in the security measure.


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