State and local governments are playing a critical role in the handling of COVID-19 and its impact on businesses and individuals. Alan Stachura, Senior Manager of Government Relations at CT, looks at the various strategies being used to maintain business operations at the Secretary level during this health crisis. He also discusses a few tips on what businesses should include in their continuity planning, as well as CT's COVID-19 resource center covering state and legislative updates, state office changes, financial relief options, and more.
CT Expert Insights: How states are operating during COVID-19 with Alan Stachura
Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. Our guest this week on Expert Insights is Alan Stachura. He's Senior Manager for Government Relations at CT Corporation. And for the past month or so, Alan and his colleagues at CT have been aggressively preparing for the impact of the Coronavirus on businesses large and small around the country and really around the world as well. And Alan, thanks very much for being with us.
Alan Stachura: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
GC: So understanding what's coming and preparing for that as quickly as possible is always a good trait to have in business, no matter what the situation. This Coronavirus situation has really thrown everyone for a loop here. It's hard to believe that March lasted as long as it did. It seemed like it lasted about six months. But it was in early March where you and other folks at CT realized that this was going to be a much bigger deal than a lot of folks at that time realized. So how did you swing into action at first?
AS: So starting on March the 5th, we actually proactively reached out to all of the states across the US to simply see what they had planned, what they had in terms of business continuity plans, disaster recovery plans, work-from-home options, really to figure out exactly what existed, what the possibilities were, and where we could go from there. We worked with the states after we got the information, to try and really share some great insights. From the conversations at different states, we learned some pretty amazing things that each of them was doing. And we wanted to make sure that we didn't keep the great information to ourselves. So we tried to share it around the room so that everyone would be just as well informed as each of the individual states were of their own policies.
GC: Alan, what did you learn from talking to all these states. Did a lot of them pretty much have a major disaster plan or emergency plan ready to go and just pulled it out of the drawer and were ready to enact it? Or where a lot of them caught flat-footed?
AS: Well, everybody had their own version. I would say it was highly variable. So some had exceptionally thorough plans, including cell phone numbers of everyone and serial numbers of laptops ready to be deployed, who would go where and what would take place. And others had less specific plans, but certainly some ideas in mind. I think what I've learned from years of our own business continuity analysis is that you have all the plans you think you could possibly need, and sometimes you get hit with something that just simply wasn't a concept of your business disaster recovery plan. So that's where we really saw kind of sharing the best practices and great ideas as benefits. Make sure that everyone knew what everyone else was doing and hopefully help some out that hadn't thought about this particular scenario.
GC: So one of the things I know that you did was to share best practices with all the states. What did that consist of?
AS: What we found was certain states that were going to remain open. Their public lobby. Things like allowing employees on the front line to wear gloves, allowing masks, having specific cleaning times of all hard surfaces. Even things like putting incoming mail into a specific box rather than having it be touched by the outsider and by the employee. Also, things like one-use disposable pens, just getting the cheapest possible and having them be used one time, and then tossing them in the trash so that there was no risk of having any type of virus or anything transferred from one person to the next. So all of those ideas were great ideas that we shared with others who were remaining open. We also had the folks that took the mindset that they wanted to close their lobbies to the general public, because they felt that was safer. And so we shared best practices on what others were doing in terms of scheduled appointments, or having some type of a dropbox, or working through submitting things through email or fax or other electronic transmission capabilities. So really across the board, tried to gauge their initial plan and then provide some feedback that we had heard from other states of things that seem to be working well, that maybe they could include in their plans as well.
GC: And how did you evolve on this because the plans obviously didn't stay the same from early March to mid-March to late March. Everything seemed to be in flux there for awhile. Different decisions being made. We're going to try to keep this open for a while now. We can't keep that open. And then eventually, or obviously, more of a lockdown situation now. So with all these different states, making all these different decisions, it seems like that would be kind of a flurry that would leave most people confused. So how did you stay on top of it all?
AS: So it was a bunch of long days and really a bunch of long weeks. As you mentioned before, it seems like there were quite a few Marches in there. Really, it was just keeping in touch with everyone, having the conversations. If I learned something new, I'd share it back with the states. If they learned something new they shared it with me. It was keeping the lines of communication open. Anytime we saw anything of any interest reaching back out, and really just chatting, whether it was through text or email or phone conversations, whatever the most appropriate and most comfortable method was. And it was a constant moving target. It was a picture in time. We saw what it looked like. And the next hour, it was different. And there was a point where multiple states were changing constantly. But to keep up with them, it was really just all about that open communication, of keeping everybody in the know so that everybody could make the best possible decisions, and we could relay that information back.
GC: And so keeping everyone in the loop with you was a major challenge in and of itself, making decisions that could change from moment to moment was also something to keep track of. And then once the decisions are made, you're also helping states craft their announcements to the public and giving information to the public. So everybody understands this as clearly as possible because it's obviously an unprecedented thing in the lives of many people here. So what went into the public messaging,
AS: We actually saw some initial public messaging from some of the states that were really, really thorough. And of course, once you release something, you start to get the flurry of questions. Well, what about this? And what about this? And how do we do this? And you didn't mention this. So we learned from our few initial announcements, and then what would happen is, as additional states made additional decisions, we would share the initial announcements from other jurisdictions and kind of add-in some feedback. That we might want to include something about this, and hey, it would be really helpful if you clarified this. And what exactly do you mean by that? So that as the announcements kept going, it actually got clearer and clearer. And in a lot of ways, they got more concise but also included more information. So it was speaking to the specific event rather than just standardized language that we may have used for a standard state closure or a standard service change. So we worked really closely to make sure that all of the items we could possibly brainstorm about would be addressed in those initial announcements so that the states could focus on what they wanted to focus on, which was providing the services and also getting their teams ready for whatever changes they had actually announced.
GC: One of the things I think that's required the greatest clarity, whether it's in the business world or from the various governors in their press conferences, is explaining exactly what various terminology means. And one of those is essential versus non-essential employees. What does that look like in the work that you did here, and how much does it vary from business to business and state to state?
AS: It's highly variable. In some cases, essential businesses were defined in one way. And in other cases, they were defined in a very different way. That was really key for us since we have operations across the United States. Making sure that we could keep our offices open, or whether we needed to close our offices. It really was a decision based upon the specifics in that jurisdiction, where we were located, what type of building we had, what hours we typically kept, since we are Registered Agents and receive service of process from both mail and couriers, as well as the outside public. We needed to make sure that what we were deciding was safe and in the best interest of our employees, as well as that it complied with all of the governmental requirements that had been put out there. So it required getting a hold of those executive orders and reading through them. And then having some pretty solid internal conversations as well as oftentimes getting some perspective from the states to see what their thoughts were and what their plans were as well. For instance, if they were able to go much more electronically, sometimes we had more options than if things stayed much more in paper and in person. So there was a lot of reading, research, and then a lot of creativity added into that.
GC: So what you're saying is as difficult as this is, logistically, if this had happened 25 or 30 years ago, it would be exponentially more difficult.
AS: Absolutely, absolutely. Without the technology that we have today, some of this would quite frankly, be impossible and we would really have needed to close a lot more, both on the stateside and on the Registered Agent side. But because the technology has enabled us to have instant access to things and provided tools for us that we wouldn't have had before such as facetime and email and internet, so on and so forth. It's enabled us to get through many of these items that would have been really challenging if we were limited to mail in person and potentially fax machines.
GC: We're speaking with Alan Stachura. He's Senior Manager in Government Relations for CT Corporation. And just a couple more questions in our waning moments here, Alan. Obviously, we're not done with this yet. It's going to be going on for who knows how much longer, and things could change greatly within a matter of days, if not weeks here. So how are you continuing to stay on top of this and being ready to change?
AS: Well, the great news is that the work that we put in initially just continues. So it's keeping those lines of communication open. It's staying in touch with everyone, checking in, seeing how they're doing. The beauty of our setup is that because we're across the U.S. and because we are pretty savvy in technology, sometimes we can add a few extra ideas and help out in certain ways. So it's continuing those conversations. monitoring the situation. And just making sure that we stay up to date so that we can relay it back to our customers so that we can help the states as much as possible.
GC: I would imagine there's a lot of long-term lessons here, Alan, in terms of thinking through things before they happen, having a plan in place to be able to adapt even if you don't know what the changing conditions are. So what's your overall advice to business owners and leaders and even state officials from what you've learned here in just the last month or so?
AS: Sure. I think one of the biggest things is flexibility. Obviously, having a disaster recovery plan is fantastic and certainly essential. But also knowing that there has to be some flexibility in it. I don't know that many of us had planned for a pandemic land, where we would be able to have no face-to-face contact and we would all be remote from our offices within our standard business continuity plan. So things that may seem like second nature at this point, such as make sure all of your employees have laptops, make sure that they all have internet access outside of the office, make sure that the systems can be accessed from outside of the office. Of course, keeping in mind all of the security requirements that may be out there. Making sure that you have a list of everyone's cell phone numbers. Figuring out ahead of time, can phones be answered off-site, either through VoIP or through other options? Could they be forwarded to cell phones? And then really just having that communication touchpoint, so you can get great ideas coming in and you could relay great information going out. But it's that flexibility that's key. As we've found more and more online options, more and more technology solutions, none of them will ever replace the human touch. But certainly having them as backup options has really helped [us] kind of hobble through some of the bumps that may have been incurred if those options hadn't been available.
GC: And lastly, Alan, obviously different guidelines, different states and so forth. But is there any particular general resource at the CT site or anywhere else that you would encourage folks to go look at?
AS: Sure. So on the CT site, there's a great link that is updated several times per day. It has all of the current statuses of the Secretaries of State, what they're doing. It includes things like availability to remote and electronic notary, whether or not you can DocuSign in certain jurisdictions. It's a living, breathing document. So I encourage people to reference it and go back to it all the time. I'm actually using it as people call me and ask me questions. Because as you can imagine, trying to keep 51 jurisdictions, straight in your mind is sometimes a little bit challenging.
GC: Well, it's enough of a challenge to keep track of what's going on in one state. But to track them all and the District of Columbia is a Herculean task. But I know a lot of folks are grateful for not only the effort, but the excellence of the effort. Alan, thank you very much for bringing us up to speed and for letting folks know where they can access very important information.
AS: Thanks so much.
GC: Alice Stachura, Senior Manager in Government Relations at CT Corporation. I'm Greg Corombos reporting for Expert Insights.