Ayla Quesada

January 24, 2022

Meet Ayla Quesada, the Lab’s Business Continuity Coordinator for the Security and Emergency Services division. When things go awry in the wake of an emergency, Ayla kicks into high-gear to keep the Lab running as smoothly and safely as possible. But even before that she is busy planning contingencies and building resilience for Lab operations. With a background in environmental sciences, she spent 21 years in the military and focused her career on hazardous materials management and safety.

“Doing that work in the Coast Guard made me realize that I'm not afraid to be where the bad stuff is happening,” she said. “Some people run away from disasters, but I’ve always been someone who runs in and can keep a calm head.”

We spoke to Ayla about the challenges of planning for emergencies that could endanger the Lab’s science mission and the role she plays as a member of the Lab’s Critical Incident Management Group (CIMG).

Could you explain the critical difference between the two aspects of your job: continuity of operations and business continuity?

Continuity of operations (COOP) and business continuity are very similar; they both mean continuing your most critical work after a disruption. The big difference is that COOP has a regulatory basis. It’s required by the federal government and involves ensuring the continuity of regulatory authorities or "mission essential functions." For example, just because a snowstorm shuts down the nation’s capital doesn't mean the IRS stops collecting taxes. Business continuity, or BC, is used more in private industry to ensure that businesses are able to recover from interruptions so they can still make products or deliver services. At the Lab we prepare for both: BC to ensure our very important research continues, and COOP if the Dept. of Energy decides that we support its mission essential functions.

Those things can take different forms like our power outage working group that helps the Lab prepare for and respond to public safety power shut offs, or PSPS. Currently, we’re helping our research community respond to supply chain issues with liquid nitrogen.

There's a spectrum. We know that in California we will have earthquakes and wildfires, but we can’t escape from being surprised, like with the pandemic we’re still facing. So, continuity is about looking at all of the hazards the Lab faces and how those hazards could impact us or keep us from doing our job.

How does the Critical Incident Management Group (CIMG) respond to Lab emergencies?

In the case of our response to the supply chain disruption of liquid nitrogen, initially this was something mostly being worked on by the Facilities and Procurement divisions. But because we've worked with these groups before on other issues through the CIMG, they recognized this was something the CIMG could handle better than an individual division could. For that event I am the planning section chief, and my task is to make sure we stay on mission, document key decisions and make sure plans are being implemented.

With COVID, you might be surprised to know that pandemics are something we actually had a plan for, but because of the nature of COVID we only facilitated the process and the response was managed more by Health Services and the rest of the EH&S division.

How has business continuity changed for the Lab?

Historically, we've mostly focused on continuity of operations as far as our obligations to the federal government. What my goals are, and especially for this year, is to shift our focus to business continuity. It’s really an all-hazards focus as opposed to just having a plan for pandemics or a plan for IT cyber attacks. Right now, we’re preparing to do risk assessments and a business impact analysis to really understand where the Lab’s vulnerabilities are. Once we understand the impacts to our business, we develop plans to mitigate them before they happen, and apply those plans that are effective regardless of the hazard .

The PSPS, the public safety power shutoff, was a good example. Instead of PG&E shutting off the electricity and everyone scrambling trying to figure out what to do to not lose research, we worked together and developed checklists to be prepared in the event that we should lose power. And those checklists were useful for other emergencies too, like water leaks in a building. We develop a general plan so we have a template to respond to anything that life throws at us.

To learn more about the Emergency Management at Berkeley Lab click on the link:

Emergency Management Service