Lessons Learned: How to navigate reopening field operations in a COVID-19 world
Blog initially published on Humentum.
In September this year, Director of Global Security with MEDA Scott Ruddick, presented a Solution Session at OpEx365, our transformative year of virtual learning. The following blog provides an overview of the topic covered: transitioning field operations from lockdown to phased resumption based on MEDA's approach.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020, MEDA – like many INGOs – moved quickly in response. Staff overseas from their home location were brought back. All of our operations – both head office and field - shifted to remote work/work from home protocols. We closed our offices, stopped all but the most essential of field activity, and required staff to work virtually.
Our prompt actions allowed MEDA to ensure staff and client safety, while we re-grouped and thought through our next steps. While vital, we knew the work from home protocols were a temporary measure. We needed to find a way to allow our staff back into their offices and to re-start some field programming activity. Most importantly, we needed to balance our approach to returning to the field with the safety of our staff and clients.
Throughout this process, we have developed the following approach, which we presented on at Humentum’s OpEx365 in a Solution Session. At a time that feels uncertain to many of us, I hope this guidance provides you with the insights and confidence to move forward with reopening field offices in a time and place that is right for your staff and clients.
Four Foundational Pieces for Reopening Field Operations
Before implementing any form of reopening, we needed to be sure we could do so safely. MEDA developed a toolkit that outlined protective protocols to be used by our field offices. These protocols provided clear standards for staff conduct; office set up; vehicle transportation; field programming activities; and reporting possible or confirmed COVID-19 exposures.
With the protective protocols in place, we focused on how to decide when a project could start reopening. To ensure a deliberate and documented process, we developed a COVID-19 Risk Matrix, that sets out the parameters for a project to resume programming. The matrix establishes definitions and indicators to enable us to make a subjective assessment of the risk level in the programming areas.
These matrix indicators several factors:
- Disease spread/prevalence
- Governmental measures
- Incidental risks
- Donor expectations
- Other NGO activity
With the risk matrix and the protective protocols established, the field teams were able to commence a phased approach to reopening. This approach consists of two distinct elements – a Resumption Risk Assessment and a Project Resumption Plan.
The security office, along with the program management team, completes a Resumption Risk Assessment that assesses current risk in a proposed locale using indicators from the matrix outlined above. A vital component of the process is the requirement for subjective information. Anecdotal or opinion-based evidence is not accepted; instead, teams must provide factual sources or statistics.
We also require the program management team, as part of this assessment, to commit to their ability to implement each of the protective practices. We list each of the protocols, and we require the team to confirm they’ll adhere to them – or they can’t, they are required to explain why and what alternatives they will put in place. Once completed, the risk assessment is submitted to the global security office for review. If it is approved, the team moves on the next step.
Project Resumption Plan
The final step is for the project team to complete a Project Resumption Plan. Using a defined template, the team develops a detailed plan to resume operations in a phased manner, while introducing the COVID-19 protective protocols. As with the risk assessment, this plan must be reviewed and approved by the security office before commencement.
As a result, our four foundations phased approach has allowed MEDA to resume operations in seven of our ten field offices. Our field staff have been integral to the approach, and it would be remiss not to highlight this process has been initiated, designed, implemented and – ultimately – owned by the field staff, with support from our head office. Most importantly, we have been able to re-start our programming while ensuring the safety of our staff and clients. Have you begun the task of reopening your field offices? If so, we’d love to hear from you.
Scott Ruddick is Director of Global Security with MEDA and has been leading MEDA’s risk management response to the COVID pandemic since March of 2020. He is a board-certified security professional with two decades of experience across four continents. He has extensive international experience, with considerable operational exposure throughout Africa, Asia, Central America and the Middle East in complex and non-permissive environments. Scott is certified as a Chartered Security Professional through the Register of Chartered Security Professionals, and a Certified Security Management Professional, through the International Security Management Institute.