For those of us that had forgotten, the outbreak and spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) to multiple continents should remind us that the risk of a critical global health incident must be factored into crisis and business continuity planning – and not just for companies with exposed supply chains.
But what precise steps should you take to mitigate losses and keep employees safe and productive? These six flexible measures come to mind.
1. Revisit your existing pandemic plan.
Haven’t revised your pandemic playbook in years? You’re not alone. Insurance models predict the annual risk of outbreaks, like an influenza pandemic, at anywhere from 0.5 to 1 percent.
But it’s well past time to crack your existing plan open and start adjusting. Before putting pen to paper, though, it’s critical to reconsider the plan’s purpose and scope. What are you now hoping to accomplish with the plan: indicating the actions required to overcome or minimize the impact of the spread of the pandemic, delineating responsibilities and procedures to address the impact of the spread, or some combination of the two?
Remember, your goals and objectives will vary depending on a few factors, like supply-chain exposure, levels of business interruption insurance coverage, staff travel history, available resources, and coordination with public health agencies. Further, possible plan objectives might include the total elimination or significant reduction of an infectious agent at the workplace, decrease of illness among key stakeholders, continuity of critical business activities, and/or reduction of economic impact.
2. Get comfortable with relevant terminology
Understanding relevant incident management terminology is quite important in the context of getting crisis-prepared for a critical public health incident. That’s because non-health specialists at your company might find themselves collaborating closely with relevant response agencies. Personnel from those agencies all use the language of their field when responding to incidents.
Just knowing some relevant terms will help your Crisis Management team communicate more efficiently with responders and avoid misunderstandings. It will also help key stakeholders to better interpret the language that official agency spokespeople are using in their public communications, which will then inform your company’s response.
3. Compile emergency contact lists
To get coronavirus crisis-prepared, ensure that your Incident Assessment and Crisis Management teams have ready access to contact information for key stakeholders. Those stakeholders will likely be:
- Local and state Departments of Public Health
- Federal health agencies
- Local emergency services
- Site management
Once obtained, contact information should be input directly into your integrated safety and security software solution – Noggin 2.0 comes to mind – and also posted in hard copy inside your brick-and-mortar crisis command center, should you have one.
4. Select your team. Set roles and responsibilities.
Haven’t selected your core crisis team or epidemic response unit? Get started now. After all, team-driven operational planning is central to most successful incident responses. So, choose your pandemic response coordinator and/or team and task them with defined roles and responsibilities for preparedness and response planning.
For teams already using the Incident Command System (ICS), the incident response structure, with modifications, might prove helpful in the effective, efficient management of this public health event.
ICS or not, your Pandemic response should ensure effective command, control, and coordination of the incident response. A management hierarchy might be the best way to go about it.
5. Get working on your internal and external communications
Also, when incident response goes awry, flawed communication is often to blame. In the case of a public health event like coronavirus, in particular, employee fear and anxiety will be high. Ad hoc, often contradictory communications from the crisis team will only heighten tensions. So, plan to stay on top of the issue and remain a respected source of information for your employees. Relevant measures might include:
- Develop and disseminate programs and materials covering epidemic fundamentals, personal and family protection, and response strategies
- Ensure that communications are culturally and linguistically appropriate
- Disseminate information to employees about your epidemic preparedness and response plan
- Provide information for the at-home care of ill employees and family members
- Develop platforms for communicating epidemic status and actions to employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers in a timely way
- Identify community sources for timely and accurate pandemic information and resources for obtaining counter measures
6. Prescribe the right actions
Finally, make sure your existing plan’s actions are appropriate to the situation at hand. Factor in that a public health event, like the coronavirus crisis, will likely remain fluid and that public health law in your jurisdiction will often supersede internal response instructions, orders, and dictates.
Nevertheless, companies must have a clear action plan to ensure employee safety and productivity, as well as maintain critical business activities. Specific continuity of business-critical services measures that come to mind include the following:
- Review existing delegations of authority to ensure sufficient depth to cover staff losses in critical services.
- Review and modify existing emergency and crisis management processes to meet pandemic-specific requirements.
- Identify and document funding approval authorities and procurement procedures for unusual resource needs.
- Develop corporate process models for prioritizing, continuing, or deferring activities to reduce workload during pandemic plan activation.
- Design and implement corporate response to the need for design and implementation of infection reducing signage.
To cap, critical public health events are not relics of our past. They are very much a crisis risk to be considered in the here and now. So, if you haven’t begun yet, start getting prepared today to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus to your business.
And if you’re looking for the next level of epidemic preparation and response-capacity, we’ve got you covered there, too. Check out our new Noggin Epidemic Response Module, recently created to help organizations respond to the novel coronavirus event and protect their people and operations from the virus threat.
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