By Ann Gergen, Executive Director
We’re hearing from our pool and QEI Patron members about how they’re addressing public entity needs and adapting their own operations in response to the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Here are a few best practice recommendations based upon information we’ve gathered from members so far:
1. Seek to fully understand your member entities’ varying needs, and consider how your pool can most effectively support them.
Member needs and responses may vary greatly depending on their size and type. For example, you might have a school district requesting financial support to disinfect buildings, a county considering how to address infection risk within a jail facility, or a city thinking ahead to service needs during a community-wide quarantine.
To better understand your members’ COVID-19 needs, it might be useful to hold listening sessions or one-on-one calls to learn their perspectives and concerns. Be sure to share information you learn with your staff and governing body so they can appreciate the whole spectrum of issues your members face. This will help your pool be supportive and responsive in a way consistent with your own goals and practices.
Some of the risks presented by COVID-19 are novel, so you may need to adapt your pool’s typical responses. Consider this an opportunity to think in a truly strategic way about member expectations of your pool, outcomes your pool should support, and so forth. Now is also the time to specifically review your coverage documents in the context of COVID-19 impacts.
One way to help ensure a balanced response is to identify each COVID-19 risk on a spectrum of likelihood and impact. Some pools may prioritize low-likelihood issues with the potential for a high impact. Others may prioritize issues with only a high likelihood. Whatever your prioritization, this approach can help you focus on practical and useful conversations about COVID-19 risks.
Lastly, while you may not want to set a precedent for coverage, risk management or other services (or maybe you do), it’s also important to actively cultivate information sharing between members and provide support your members will value. Your responsiveness is important to your members dealing with this crisis now – and will resonate with them long into the future.
2. Communicate proactively to multiple contacts within your membership.
Most pools have a primary contact within each member entity and focus communications toward that role or person. Although you want to be mindful of keeping your key contact in the loop with all communications, information related to COVID-19 risks and mitigation may be well suited to an expanded distribution.
Everyone working within a public entity will have a unique perspective about the spread of COVID-19. A risk manager will be thinking differently than an elected official, and a public health administrator will have different concerns than a public works supervisor. By sharing relevant information in a variety of ways and at many levels, you’ll spur additional conversation among those within your member entities. This will help your members (and your pool) think comprehensively and holistically about the issue.
This is also an important chance to demonstrate your pool’s unique connection to public entity risk mitigation at every level of contact. Every person within your membership (including elected officials, top administrators, public safety and health officials, risk managers, union representatives, etc.) should know how you are helping to share information and provide resources.
3. Identify and address COVID-19’s staffing and operational impacts on your own pool.
It’s common for a pool to put member needs ahead of its own interests. But you won’t be able to help your members if you aren’t protecting your own operational resources. If nothing else, think of the next few weeks as a perfect opportunity to test your pool’s business continuity plans.
- Think now about work-from-home practices and priorities. Review and test your systems, network, equipment and all remote connections. Prepare your operations to meet member needs through remote work starting as soon as next week.
- Consider the impact on your staffing if schools and daycares are closed for a few days or weeks or if your staff members need to help care for other family members. Changes like these may require some employees to take time off or to work different hours than usual.
- Now is also the time to review your leave practices and policies, including those for exempt and non-exempt employees. You might need to update or allow for exceptions to existing policies in order to meet the operational stressors presented by COVID-19.
- Consider now whether to suspend in-person meetings or events being held by or at your pool. Be clear with all staff about travel expectations.
- This is also a good time to reinforce policies about sick employees staying home as well as healthy workplace habits.
Again, sorting operational risks by impact and likelihood may be helpful to prioritize next steps.
The nature of your interactions with member entities may also change in response to COVID-19 and further impact your operations. A member representative might want to forgo a loss control visit or renewal meeting because they don’t want someone new in their workspace. Some members might also be hesitant to attend membership meetings your pool has scheduled.
By contrast, you might see higher demand for phone consultations or certain emergency response resources. All this means you might need to shift priorities and resources within your pool in order to best meet immediate member needs.
4. Take a balanced approach to leadership.
In an unpredictable crisis situation, some leaders tend to downplay possible risks. Others might unintentionally increase anxiety by repeating data and sharing news reports rather than talking about outcomes or impacts.
The life of a pool executive is already incredibly busy. It may be frustrating and time-consuming, but it’s important to focus on this issue as a meaningful leadership opportunity with your members and your staff. Taking the time to carefully and methodically consider the actions you take, the conversations you have, and the solutions you pursue will make a big difference.
5. Collaborate with other pools.
Your best resource for ideas about how to respond to COVID-19 is other public entity pools.
To facilitate sharing and pool collaboration of ideas and resources, we’ve created a COVID-19 resource folder within our online discussion forum for pool executives. This folder will serve as a hub for resources pools have published or have otherwise found useful.
All member pool executives are subscribed to this forum and can access it after logging in on our website. Navigate to the resource folder from the main page of the forum by clicking the “Library” tab.
AGRiP will update these resources regularly. Pool executives can add resources directly by clicking “New” under “Folder Contents” and following the instructions to post PDFs, weblinks, YouTube videos and more.
We encourage pool executives to use the discussion forum to pose questions or ask other pools how they are responding in specific situations. A weekly summary of discussions, which includes a link directly to the forum, is sent to all pool executives every Thursday.
The cybrary is another great resource to see how other pools are sharing COVID-19 materials with their members. It is accessible to anyone with an AGRiP login. Try searching “coronavirus” or “COVID.” You can review materials from member pools, associations, leagues and other groups by using the tabs at the top of the search results page.
If you have any questions about obtaining an AGRiP website login, posting materials to the pool executive discussion forum, or accessing resources from other pools, contact Kristen Morris.