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5 Steps to Prepare for a Pandemic Outbreak

Written by: 
Tracy L. Hall, MBCP

The recent Coronavirus situation is receiving a significant amount of global attention. While many are worrying about what they can do to avoid contracting the virus (now named COVID-19), we want to take this time to focus on what businesses should be doing to prepare for the pandemic situation.

Pandemic planning primarily focuses on people instead of facilities and technology. Although facility and technology issues can result from a widespread pandemic situation, true pandemic planning emphasizes the human capital considerations that will have the greatest impact on a company’s ability to conduct business as usual.

Here are some steps you can take to maximize the effectiveness of your organization’s pandemic plan.

#1 – Education and Prevention

As part of your pandemic preparedness, it’s important to ensure that employees are educated on the facts. Proper education will lead to enhanced adherence to the company’s preventive pandemic measures.

The organization must be prepared to enforce strategies for avoiding the spread of the pandemic that has the potential to infect the employee base. Proper hygiene, including frequent washing of hands and use of hand sanitizers, and the encouragement of sick personnel to remain at home, are at the top the list of prevention tactics that should be initiated during a potential pandemic outbreak. 

Additionally, companies may look at increasing cleaning practices, including:

  • More frequent changing of trash can liners
  • Using sanitizing wipes to clean desks, phones, and other frequently handled items
  • Removing loose items in office space such as magazines, pens, and candy dishes

Companies may consider minimizing non-essential business travel, utilizing conference bridges instead of in-person meetings, and postponing any non-essential work events. 

A “no handshake” policy may seem impersonal or unprofessional, but it’s another consideration for potentially controlling the spread of illness. Staying connected with local, state, and federal health agencies for frequent updates can assist in adjusting your strategies as the situation continues to evolve.

#2 – Cross Training

Ensure that business functions can be performed in the absence of essential personnel for the successful continuance of operations. Implement cross training processes to protect against gaps in knowledge in the event that the only person trained to perform a task is unavailable.

#3 – Remote Capabilities

Planning for personnel to work from home can be an option during a pandemic episode. However, it’s important that this pandemic strategy is thoroughly tested to ensure its viability. A couple of important questions to ask when planning for a remote solution are:

  • Has the company done a proper analysis to determine that all critical functions can be performed in a remote fashion?
  • Do users have the appropriate tools, such as technology and hardware, as well as basic supplies, forms, etc., to work successfully from home?
  • Is there enough bandwidth to adequately support the number of remote users that may be necessary during a situation that requires more people to work remotely than usual?

#4 – Critical Providers and Vendors

It’s important to remember that a pandemic outbreak will be widespread and not just affect a single business. Third-party providers that supply technologies, goods, and services could also be affected. Incorporating backup plans, including those specific to pandemic situations, for key third-party providers should be part of your overall Business Continuity and vendor due diligence processes.

Although pandemic plans for businesses focus mainly on personnel, there is more to consider when thinking about the large pieces of businesses that are outsourced. If staffing is affected at critical providers and vendors, it can result in interruptions in the products and services that these third-parties provide—including access to technologies. Consider the impact that an interruption of access to a critical outsourced technology may have if there is not adequate staffing at the vendor to rectify the issue.

The same goes for utilities. Linemen who are not working due to illness will cause delays in maintaining transformers and addressing other issues that impact our electrical grid capabilities.

#5 – Communication

If personnel cannot go onsite for long periods of time, does your organization have an effective plan to sustain ongoing communication with remote users? It’s necessary to ensure that important information can be exchanged so employees are kept apprised of any developments or changes in requirements as the situation progresses. Likewise, does your company have adequate means for communicating with customers, stakeholders, and the general public to promote assurance that you are continuing to provide services to the best of your ability?

Ensuring that your organization has incorporated these areas into its planning will help increase its preparedness to respond to an outbreak of a new pandemic.