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Ebola: actions that all business continuity managers can consider

By Charlie Maclean-Bristol.

The first death caused by Ebola (officially Ebola virus disease (EVD)) outside Africa caught my eye this week, this was a Saudi national who had been visiting Sierra Leone.

Over the last few months the number of deaths from the illness has been growing, infecting people from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

At the time of writing there have been 932 deaths and over 1500 cases.

Apart from the first death outside Africa, the illness has recently spread to Nigeria, with one death and a number of other cases.

Nigeria, with its large population and strong links to Europe, makes it more likely that the illness could spread further.

Ebola is a viral illness of which the initial symptoms can include a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat. Subsequent stages are vomiting, diarrhoea and - in some cases - both internal and external bleeding. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.

Outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent, although the current outbreak is running at a lower mortality rate of approximately 54 percent.

 The illness was first discovered in 1976 and this outbreak has been the biggest to date. Perhaps this is a result of our more connected world.

So should we be panicking? No, but as good business continuity managers we should be horizon scanning for new threats and this is a potential threat. So what should we be doing?

1. Firstly we should be monitoring the spread of the illness on a daily basis. The WHO (World Health Organization) provide excellent information on Ebola and its spread on their website. We should know if we have operations in an affected country and we should monitor staff travel. If we have operations or staff travelling there we should carry out a risk assessment. You should think through whether staff need any additional precautions or even whether they should be travelling at all. It is also worth considering the possibility that the country may close its borders, trapping your staff member(s) there.

2. I don't think we should be dusting off our pandemic plans and adapting them to the particular requirements of Ebola just yet. In fact the plans and action to stop the spread of most illnesses seem quite similar - avoid contact with ill people, send ill people home early and insist that everyone practises good personal hygiene. I believe the plans in place by the NHS and good infection control would very quickly bring to a halt any outbreak if it got to the UK.

3. The only plan we could think about, and I think this is low on the risk likelihood scale, is that one member of your staff has possibly been in contact with someone with the illness. This would result in that employee being unavailable for work until he or she had been cleared; and other staff members who had been in contact with the potentially infected employee may also have to be told to stay away from work.  The result of this could have an impact on your organization. You should have plans in place for lack of staff so it is worth revisiting them and making sure they are up to date. For most of us outside West Africa, Ebola is not an imminent threat but I think as a precaution we should be keeping an eye on the spread of the illness.

The author

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is Director of Training at Business Continuity Training Ltd.

•Date: 8th August 2014 • UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: Pandemic planning

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