Pandemic business continuity planning – things to consider

Get free weekly news by e-mailA very practical guide to pandemic planning for business continuity professionals, by Dr. Jim Kennedy, MRP, MBCI, CBRM

There seems to be many different thoughts about the potential pandemic in the corporate boardrooms all across the globe. In general, the world community is hopeful that the ‘flu pandemic, currently related to the H5A1 “Bird Flu” virus, does not occur. There are many medical professionals and scientists indicating that it is just a matter of time before such a pandemic will occur. These issues coupled with many inquiries that I have received about what companies should do to prepare for a pandemic have led me to write this article.

I have tried in this article not to discuss the science or to debate the public policy issues, but to provide some thoughts on what the various business industry segments should consider in business contingency planning for such an event if and when it should occur. Why, because that is the profession of business continuity planners, to plan ahead for potential events and to advice management. It is the obligation of business leaders to perform due diligence and exercise due care in running its operations.

My hope is that this article will stimulate thought and conversation by business leaders and contingency planners in the areas of business impact and continuity.

I have highlighted areas of concern that need to be reviewed in regards to a pandemic type of incident. The list is by all means not all-inclusive, but represents areas that have been raised as concerns by my clients and fellow collogues.

My sincere desire is that these highlighted areas will stimulate action by companies small, medium and large so that they might properly prepare for possibility of a pandemic impacting their operations.

PLANNING

* Develop a crisis management plan tailored to a pandemic.

* Develop a plan for an alternative workforce in the event that a large portion of the usual workforce is impacted by a pandemic. Estimates are for potential absenteeism rates of 10 to 25%, with larger rates in metropolitan areas.

* Plan on taking special precautions to assess the health of the workforce and potentially plan to turn back infected workers who report for work.

* Plan on how to deal with the emotional impact of such events as death and potential of death on the individual’s family as well as the workforce in general.

* Companies should plan for reduced production or service delivery based on reductions of customer demand, labor force, raw material supply or energy resources needed for operations.

* Companies should entertain plans to work cooperatively with other companies to maintain critical business services and ventures in the event that this is necessary

* Develop contingency plans for raw material and supply stockpiling as these resources may be impacted by a pandemic, especially those that are imported or rely on imported raw materials for their production.

POLICY DEVELOPMENT

Consider:

* Changes to policies defining absenteeism

* Changes to policies on teleworking or telecommuting

* Changes to travel policies

* Changes to ‘use of videoconferencing’ policies

* Changes to flexible work hours and alternate workplace policies.

TECHNOLOGY

Consider:

* Use of tele or videoconferencing instead of face-to-face meetings

* Increasing capacity of remote access facilities

* Increasing trunk capacity of telephone systems to accommodate increase use of teleconferencing and telephone meetings

* Increasing the capacity of Internet connectivity.

* Improved information security protection due to increased technology use.

* Increased use of VoIP or cellular phones to allow for management, sales and service collogues to be accessible wherever they are.

WORKFORCE

* Develop and deliver internal communications and training of the workforce in dealing with proper reactions to a pandemic.

* Hospitals and healthcare facilities will be severely overwhelmed and probably have insufficient resources to treat patient load, company should be prepared to offer internal medical assistance to its workers or others in the event of a pandemic.

* Review insurance coverage specifically reviewing coverage in regard to the impact of a pandemic on business operations and employee health.

* In the event of food, medicine, and other shortages company should be prepared to provide aid to both to employees and to customers.

* Identify and train back-up staff for key positions in the event that key personnel are impacted by a pandemic.

* Consider in-house day care facilities.

RAW MATERIAL SUPPLY

* Plan on the assumption that shortages will take place.

* Make sure that if raw materials are unavailable for some reason related to a pandemic, there are sufficient surge capacities to allow for continued production.

* Make sure that alternative sources are identified for critical domestic and imported raw materials?

* Make sure that adequate maintenance and repair supplies are obtained, as lead times to acquire such materials could be severely impacted by the pandemic.

TRANSPORTATION SERVICES

* A pandemic will cause restrictions in the movement of raw materials and products, or shortages of fuel may occur; make sure, therefore, that contingency plans are in place to provide adequate movement of product to sustain business operations.

* Make sure that waste management systems are designed for surge capacities in the event that movement and processing of wastes is disrupted.

* Plan for alternate transportation sources.

* Plan for providing transportation for critical workers to and from work locations.

COMMUNICATIONS

* Prepare for and communicate the communication channels that the company will utilize to keep employees, customers, and suppliers informed as to company activities during the pandemic.

* Company should develop pre-planned media statements for use when needed.

* Company should have contingency statements prepared for delivery to its workforce.

* Early communications should be made to suppliers and customers to set expectations.

* Alternate communications channels need to be developed in case normal communication channels become unreliable or overloaded.

CUSTOMERS

* Anticipate what customers will expect in terms of product or service demand, and delivery during the pandemic.

* Determine what product or services are likely to be impacted the greatest by the pandemic.

* Develop a prioritization for product and service delivery for customers if production or service delivery is adversely impacted.

* Communicate any changes to lead times for notification to the customer if the capability to provide the goods or services significantly reduces.

I am sure that there are many more things to be considered. I hope that I have stimulated thought and a need for further inquiry and dialogue between contingency planners and business leaders. We need to prepare, let’s not wait too long or before it is too late.

About the Author:

Dr. Jim Kennedy is Business Continuity Practice Lead and Distinguished Member of Consulting Staff of Lucent Worldwide Services. Dr. Kennedy has over 25 years experience in the business continuity and disaster recovery fields and holds numerous certifications in network engineering, security and business continuity. He has developed more than 30 recovery plans, planned or participated in more than 100 BC/DR plan tests, helped to coordinate three actual recovery operations, and has co-authored two books.

jtkennedy@lucent.com

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Date: 10th Feb 2006 • Region: US/World Type: Article •Topic: BC general
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