Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, countries have stepped up on their national response with measures involving testing (where available), contact tracing, quarantining and social distancing. While some countries have the benefit of Governments introducing business and economic support packages, there are others who do not. Even with such assistance packages, there are limitations and qualifying guidelines on helping citizens and businesses.
The events of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, H1N1 in 2009, and other epidemics in between and after (some of which were localized only to a particular region), have been a constant reminder not only to Governments but also to large and small organizations and businesses that resiliency measures need to be seriously considered and put in place in order to ensure continuity of operations, should similar events occur in the future.
The result: influenza/infectious disease response plans have been developed, communicated, exercised and operationalized by organizations who take heed to the importance of being prepared. These response plans detail workplace segregation and sanitization measures, issuance of personal protective equipment, the monitoring of employee wellbeing, and other critical activities.
Are these plans relevant today? Yes, however, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised, “COVID-19 is a new virus and a new situation… we need to find new ways to prevent infections, save lives and minimize its impact.” This underscores the need for organizations to continue to innovate and adapt in the face of new developments.
COVID-19 has now been declared a global pandemic, and it is expected to (at least) last until the end of the year. While no one can predict how this disease will evolve, medical professionals and experts are working around the clock to speed up testing and detection, establish effective contact tracing and containment measures, and hopefully, coming up with the much-needed vaccine(s).
For organizations or business entities, this would mean that planning assumptions previously incorporated in their pandemic response plans will need to be reassessed, revised and communicated. There is a need to shift from “scenario-specific planning” to “enterprise-level scenario planning with a sustained view”.
To be effective, business continuity plans supporting recovery operations will have to be reviewed and merged with current pandemic plans. While this may require a tedious review process, it can be done fairly with an understanding of your organization’s critical business functions and processes, the stakeholders involved, the daily activities that are expected to be impacted, and securing the support and endorsement of relevant stakeholders.
The key to the revision exercise (assuming your organization already has such a plan), is to think holistically and long term. Revise and plan not only to address today’s global pandemic situation, but also with consideration of other real-world threats that may impede your organizations’ pandemic response planning.
Cyber threats and misinformation are issues that can create inconvenience and confusion, especially when there are significant updates to be communicated and stakeholders can be receiving them from multiple sources. Take into account how current business units approach and consume information and how the process can be improved so your organizations can continue to provide your partners, clients, staff other stakeholders assurance.
Most organizations will not need to completely overhaul policies and processes, but they likely need to identify any gaps that need to be addressed for processes that are certain to be disrupted. Most importantly, the plan and any revisions made, the activation process, and the steps to successful implementations should be communicated from a trusted source, swiftly and securely.