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NIST SP 800-53 CP-4 Contingency Plan Testing | Download Template Today

Updated: Feb 8

Testing contingency plans for NIST 800-53 is of critical importance because it ensures an organization's preparedness to effectively respond to unexpected disruptions or disasters that could compromise the availability, integrity, or confidentiality of critical information systems and data. These plans outline the strategies and procedures for maintaining essential functions during adverse events, such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, or equipment failures.

By conducting rigorous testing, organizations can identify potential gaps in their contingency plans, refine response strategies, and validate their ability to minimize downtime and data loss. This proactive approach not only safeguards against disruptions but also helps organizations meet NIST 800-53 compliance requirements, ultimately enhancing their overall resilience and reducing the risk of severe consequences in the event of an incident.

To be clear, testing contingency plans for information systems is a crucial step in ensuring business continuity and data security. Here are three best practices to consider when conducting contingency plan testing:

Comprehensive Scenario Testing: Effective contingency plan testing should encompass a wide range of scenarios, including both common and uncommon events. This means simulating various types of incidents such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, hardware failures, and even human errors. By testing under diverse conditions, organizations can identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their contingency plans that may not be apparent during routine operations. It's essential to involve key stakeholders, including IT teams, security personnel, and business leaders, in scenario planning and testing to ensure a holistic approach.

Regular and Rigorous Testing: Contingency plan testing should not be a one-time event. To maintain the effectiveness of your plans, regular testing and updates are essential. Conduct scheduled tests, such as tabletop exercises and simulation drills, to evaluate the response and recovery capabilities of your information systems. Additionally, consider unannounced or surprise testing to assess staff readiness and response under pressure. Regular testing not only helps identify areas for improvement but also keeps your team well-prepared for real-world emergencies.

Documentation and Evaluation: Thorough documentation of contingency plan testing is critical. Record the test objectives, scenarios, outcomes, and any issues encountered. Following each test, conduct a detailed evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the response, identify areas that need improvement, and determine whether the recovery objectives were met. Use these evaluations to update and refine the contingency plan, ensuring that it remains current and aligned with the evolving threats and technologies. This iterative process helps organizations build resilience and adapt to changing circumstances..

Reporting Requirements

Specifically, Per CP-4 of NIST SP 800-53, organizations are to “Test the contingency plan for the system…”.  The keyword here is “test”, which means you need a testing program in place for CP-4. 

How to Get Started

Start by downloading our world-class NIST RMF Security and Privacy Policies and Procedures templates at the Arlington Security Portal (ASP), which includes access to our contingency planning testing tabletop exercises, and also access to our incident response tabletop exercises.    

How Arlington Can Help

We have years of experience working within the broader federal agency apparatus in helping federal contractors develop high-quality, well-written, policies and procedures and additional NIST RMF information security and privacy materials.  Our NIST RMF information security and privacy policies, procedures, programs, and plans have been used by thousands of federal contractors in helping organizations develop customized documentation for their growing security and compliance needs.

About Arlington

We are Arlington, a team of innovative, solution-oriented, highly agile, and well-versed professionals with decades of experience in working with America’s defense industry. From emerging cybersecurity regulations to helping our clients solve complex security & compliance solutions – and so much more – you can trust Arlington, the firm that’s Dedicated to Defense®.  Learn more at



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