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How to Add Pandemic Response to Business Continuity Plans

The decisions you make today will have significant impact on your operations for quite a while. With that in mind, taking measures today to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is necessary to ensure not only the continuation of effective operations today but resiliency for years to come.

Like many natural disasters, infectious diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the reemergence of tuberculosis can have harsh impacts to safety and security operations—and the global economy.

For these reasons, it’s time to integrate communicable and infectious diseases into business continuity strategies as an emerging natural hazard. Aggressive measures to ensure a safe, sanitary, and secure working environment are necessary to create a foundation for health, safety, and protective service professionals.

COVID-19 is the most recent in a round of threats from emerging highly infectious disease, and it highlights the need to continually plan for and exercise strategies to assure readiness to respond and maintain resiliency. Having a plan is essential to ensure the health and safety of employees and stakeholders of any organization.

Build and Exercise Your Plan

If you have not already done so, now is the time to pull out your pandemic preparedness plans and business continuity strategy. Be sure to review the policies and procedures to confirm that they are still current for your organization.

Managing the response to any threat requires understanding the threat characteristics and profile. Mitigating the threat of emerging infectious diseases requires planning and resources to assure that systems are in place for operations, as well as for decision making.

Everyone, from organizations to the local government to public safety professionals to the community, must be part of managing the threat. If there is a state or federal declaration of an emergency or major disaster, security professionals must examine the emergency orders to ensure compliance.

Many federal and municipal governments across the world are implementing social distancing mandates to manage the threat of spreading COVID-19. In response, some companies and organizations are requiring—or encouraging—employees work from home. Some, however, might not have the technology infrastructure in place to support this kind of work style. For example, employees may not have high speed Internet for video conferencing and meetings.

To prepare for this organizational change, conduct a workshop or tabletop exercise with leadership so everyone understands the expectations and responsibilities of their function—even while working remotely. Workshops are an opportunity for everyone to walk through a discussion on the policies and procedures that are no longer valid or may have changed in the organizational dynamic since the plan was last updated.

Updating Your Plan

Many agencies consider communicable illnesses public health incidents instead of slow onset disasters that require activation of crisis management systems. Similar to natural hazards, a pandemic will threaten organizational normalcy by disrupting day-to-day business operations and community activities. For this reason, private sector business continuity and public sector emergency planners need to consider emerging infectious diseases as part of their Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) and Business Impact Analysis process.

Community mitigation strategies for pandemics may include social distancing and isolation of exposed individuals, along with quarantine of those who are infected or ill. These strategies require activation of jurisdictions’ emergency operations plans to cancel public gatherings and events, and to create points for monitoring residents.

Traditionally, preparedness for pandemics has included the need for discussions on how to be prepared for up to 40 percent of your organization unable to report to work. This may be because of social distancing requirements, infection, or the need to provide care to someone who is infected. Organizations need to think through how they will handle employees who cannot report to work while continuing to effectively operate.

To help make these decisions on staff, organizations should review World Health Organization (WHO) and national health sites—like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—for best practices. They should also be familiar with, and routinely monitor, recommendations and guidelines from state and local health authorities.

In areas with high exposure risk or isolation orders, organizations should limit facility access to only essential personnel necessary for operations. Organizations should also consider creating a safety parameter for monitoring entry. For instance, the White House has begun conducting temperature checks before allowing reporters into the press briefing room.

Additionally, all personnel should be advised not to report to work if they are sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms. All staff who routinely come into contact with the public or surfaces exposed to the public should wear exam gloves on site.

Communicate with Your Stakeholders

All organizations mut have a strategy to keep employees, stakeholders, and regulatory authorities informed—as appropriate—through consistent, concise messaging. Communication systems and processes are the essential tools to tell your story and manage perceptions about how you are handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizations should provide information across multiple platforms, exercising and evaluating each to determine what works best for messaging. It is unsettling when information is not available. The lack of information can cause emotions to run high. Providing validated information will go a long way towards preventing gossip and speculation.

Exercise your organization’s communication plan. Stay on message and provide accurate, credible information to media outlets and Intranet services.

Anthony S. Mangeri, MPA, CEM, EMT, is chair of the ASIS Fire and Life Safety Community. He has more than 30 years of experience in crisis management and public safety, and is a consultant focused on emergency management, planning, training, and exercising. He serves on several professional committees, including the IAEM USA Board of Directors. Mangeri earned a Master of Public Administration from Rutgers University and has completed a fellowship in public health preparedness and emergency response.

Article ©2020 Anthony Mangeri

For more information and resources on COVID-19 response, please visit the ASIS Disease Outbreak Security Resources page.