How to Prepare Your Organization for the Coronavirus Outbreak

February 27, 2020 James Green

As global concern grows due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak, organizations are facing rapid response challenges, from employee health and welfare to disrupted supply chains. SAI Global advises steps to prepare and execute a robust business continuity plan. 

Below: See checklists for pandemic planning

Given the unknown variables surrounding the latest coronavirus outbreak, many businesses across the globe are having to evaluate their preparedness to the potential impact it may have on their operations, supply chain and employee well-being. 

By investing now in the development, implementation and maintenance of a viable business continuity management (BCM) program, organizations can provide the most effective approach to restoring and resuming critical and essential functions and processes. And most importantly, provide a layer of protection for their most important assets: people, information, cash flow and reputation. 

Let’s take a look at how you should properly protect your organization.  

 

1. Time is everything 

As authorities warn that the COVID-19 virus outbreak is starting to spread globally, organizations can actively prepare for its impact. Creating a BCM program speeds recovery by allowing you to hone in on critical aspects. It’s far easier to come back from a crisis by following a thorough plan rather than trying to fix everything at once.  

Pandemic response 

Make a list of the kinds of interruptions that might strike. For instance, if your business is heavily reliant on external suppliers do you need to look for alternative sources?  

Do your vendors or your vendors’ vendors operate within the infected regions? If so: 

  • Identify operational and revenue impacts from potential disruptions to key suppliers and vendors.  
  • Consider the feasibility of sourcing goods, ingredients, and component parts from alternative suppliers. 
  • If you know you’re going to be impacted three months (or even further) from now, you should reduce your production or output NOW. 
  • Can you feasibly delay customer shipments? 

Remote worker capabilities 

Your IT infrastructure may already be able to support 100 remote workers – but imagine if that became a thousand. Do you have the bandwidth and VPN licenses to enable your people to be productive? Ask yourself the following: 

  • Do your employees even have the ability to work from home?
  • Do they have laptops, telecoms or good broadband capabilities? 
  • How are you enforcing your data privacy policies so that they align with governmental regulations?  

 

2. Keep employees safe, informed and prepared 

Your people are your most important asset. First and foremost, it is crucial that every employee knows what to do, whether for their own personal well-being or those around them. Without proper guidance, training and open lines of communication, your workplace can be susceptible to hysteria and panic.

As we have already seen, this latest coronavirus outbreak is shrouded in myth and misinformation; capturing the correct information and verifying its reliability is vital. So, ensure your messaging to your workforce cuts through conspiracy theories and inaccurate reporting.  

Support for the health and wellness of your people 

Create an internal communication plan – the plan should also be part of your crisis management communication plan. Here you should identify simple, key messages, a reliable process and the vehicles for providing continual updates and collecting feedback from employees.  

Outline the steps the organization is taking on behalf of its employees

  • Summarize company policies – describe healthcare plan coverage, both preventive and treatment; attendance including paid time off; payroll continuation; travel; and group meetings.  
  • Describe the potential impact of an outbreak on your operations, services, travel, supply chain, business, revenues, etc., so employees can plan accordingly.  
  • Create additional communication and management oversight to be implemented in work environments where the transmission of respiratory illness is typically more prevalent. 
  • Provide a summary or review of your current pandemic preparedness plan.  
  • Make sure reminders of the availability of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for emotional support are communicated frequently. 

Leverage multiple channels to communicate information that is in line with public health recommendations on the prevention of pandemic infectious disease outbreak to your employees as well as hygiene and prudent action. 

Review and prepare a work-from-home strategy for those areas of your business that can support telecommuting practices. 

  • This includes access to essential technology components and communications among employees.  
  • Clearly articulate procedures and expectations that employees should follow.  

Establish policy and practices to limit face-to-face meetings and travel when the risk level is high. 

Ensure absence recording is consistent as high absence levels may trigger some BCP actions. 

Take additional actions in line with occupational health and public health practices as they emerge. 

 

3. Stay in contact 

An important component of any plan is communication. It’s really hard to keep things running smoothly with no communication. It’s critical to establish communication channels that can persist through anything. You must be able to respond promptly, accurately and confidently.  

Many different audiences must be reached with information specific to their interests and needs. After all, the image of the business can be positively or negatively impacted by public perceptions of your organizations’ handling of any crisis situation, let alone the coronavirus public health scare. 

When determining who, when, and what kind of communication to leverage, a solid plan will help you manage the flow of communications and guarantee that the right communication gets to the right people at the right time.  

 

4. Testing: Start practicing now 

Remember that awareness and preparedness are keys to business resilience, so now that you have your BCM program defined and your team educated, this is no time to sit back and wait.  

For instance, if you’re not already giving your team the flexibility to work remotely, you should start now. It’s hard to know exactly where the pain points will be. So, start practicing now to figure out the systems and processes you need to put into place. 

Work with your HR department to review, test and update your pandemic plans against a realistic pandemic scenario. Create a variety of scenarios for your employees to test their skills, conduct relevant drills, identify plan gaps and rehearse team roles and responsibilities. Invariably, you might find things you can do better; you might even gain insights about improving day-to-day operations, too.  

 

5. Recovery 

One of the first things you should do is take stock of your situation. With your data already secure and backed up to the cloud, and employees safely maintaining productivity from their mobile devices, you can start looking ahead to operational resiliency; how will you successfully restore operations?  

Surviving a pandemic crisis or any disruption could also bring a wealth of new opportunities. Get in touch with your suppliers and vendors and work on renegotiating contracts that are favorable. Be open and embrace new developments, adapt and turn them to your advantage to stay strong and future-focused. 

It is hard to predict the future and what opportunities and challenges may come our way but preparations for a potential pandemic pays off. After all, preparing for any event is not as difficult as reacting too late after it has occurred. 

 


Additional resources

 


COVID-19 Business Continuity Planning  

(Includes but is not limited to the following): 

  • What is the designation of essential operations and plans to reassign staff from non-critical functions if employee absence is a threat?
  • Garner confirmation of the chain of command and back-ups for leaders and critical roles.
  • Review if IT infrastructure is able to support an increase in remote work and manage any added load to client-facing or service delivery technology that may occur.
  • This includes an increase in the use of video or digital telephonic software and an increase in the use of Employee Intranet apps for company posts.
  • Create an internal communications plan to ensure that the business continuity plan (BCP), updates and changes can be communicated in real-time to those who need to know specific information; those who need to take a new action, and that the information has been received and action taken as appropriate.
  • Ensure that you have multiple levels of redundancy, should a critical system failure occur.
  • Assess the risk level of any vendors or other parties that your organization depends on and gather confirmation from critical vendors that they have a robust BCP and are able to deploy as needed.
  • Monitor World Health Organization (WHO), or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

 


COVID-19: Health, Hygiene & Well-being Guidance 

  • Frequently wash hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not your hand); throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and a cough.
  • If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your healthcare provider.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

If you are worried about symptoms, contact your local healthcare provider. 

 


Infectious Disease Threat: Supplier/Third-Party Checklist  

  • In the event of an outbreak, does the supplier have documented Business Continuity and/or IT Disaster Recovery plans?
  • Do the supplier’s plans identify critical business processes and their recovery priority?
  • Does the supplier take into consideration assumed time frames for the outbreak and is it, therefore, planned for?
  • If mission-critical business processes are affected, what are they and what is the expected recovery time?
  • Do the supplier’s plans observe critical staff absenteeism over an extended period of time?
  • Does the supplier’s plans account for interdependencies that are both internal and external to the organization?
  • Do the plans address all the locations from which it provides services to your organization?
  • Where is the supplier’s primary IT facility or data center located – in the same building or office complex occupied by its main business or operations staff?
  • Does the supplier have other locations that can – or could – provide the goods or services currently being used by our organization?

 


Learn more about SAI Global's business continuity technology that supports business impact assessments, crisis management, disaster recovery, and planning for resiliency. 

Or, contact us to see how SAI Global has helped organizations like yours.

About the Author

James Green

James Green is Director, Risk Advisory Services at SAI Global. He is passionate about life safety and helps the C-Suite understand the importance of business continuity not just during an emergency, but as an integral part of day to day operations. He has worked on risk events that have occurred all over the globe, including civil unrest in Egypt during the Arab Spring, executive travel and protection in the Pacific Rim, and the effects of destructive tornadoes in Oklahoma.

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