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Ebola and Business Continuity

Rumors are flying about the likelihood of Ebola spreading throughout the United States, but how do companies separate fact from fiction to continue operating at a normal pace? Businesses should have a plan in place, not just for dealing with a possible Ebola outbreak in the United States, but for the many other ways in which Ebola can impact operations. That was the topic of a webinar on Wednesday afternoon presented by iJet International, a risk management consulting firm based in Annapolis, Maryland.

The latest news in the United States regarding the deadly Ebola virus is that a Texas healthcare worker, confirmed to have the disease, boarded a commercial flight on Monday from Cleveland to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. While the nurse did not exude any symptoms when boarding the plane, according to Frontier Airlines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now contacting all 132 passengers who were on the plane with 29-year-old Amber Vinson. This latest news is only stoking fears around the nation about the possibility of the disease spreading.

Officials from iJet attempted to manage those fears from a business standpoint and recommended some best practices for dealing with any possible outbreaks.

John Rose, chief operational officer at iJet International, said that the mistruths regarding Ebola only serve to generate panic, and don’t communicate information that could be critical to containing the virus. “We realize that the dynamic nature of Ebola has changed a lot of the way we look at travel,” he said, “and this has created a whole other level of scare.”

But he emphasized that those fears shouldn’t stop companies from conducting business as usual: “We need to look at the realistic part of the situation.” He recommended having a solid plan in place to deal with any possible exposure either at home or abroad so that business continuity is minimally impacted.

George Taylor, director of global response operations for iJet, recommended doing a business impact analysis to ascertain the possible consequences of a disruption due to an Ebola outbreak.

For organizations with businesses in areas of the world with a higher risk for Ebola contagion, particularly West African nations, contingency planning is a crucial element. “Your plan is only as good as the last time you exercised it,” Taylor noted, recommending that companies practice their contingency operations on a regular basis. Having rally points and safe havens where all persons can be evacuated to and safeguarded with food, water, and communications capabilities is key. 

Katherine Harmon, director of health intelligence at iJET Intelligent Risk Systems, said that companies should be prepared to quell fears about the possibility of catching Ebola in an airport from seemingly healthy individuals. “Misinformation is a big problem,” she said. “Sick individuals are the only ones really who can pass on this disease.”

Rose recommended organizations evaluate their telework polices in order to have less impact on business operations. “Should the area of one of your buildings become exposed…part of your plan may very well be to enact a work-from-home policy. A lot of companies have detailed plans around this with flu pandemics.”

With the flu season approaching, Harmon emphasized that flu symptoms and Ebola symptoms are very similar. “Corporations should set up flu clinics, and encourage employees to get their flu shots,” thus minimizing the possible scare that flu symptoms can bring on. “Fear is much more contagious than this disease,” she said.