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New research from Databarracks has revealed that two-thirds of organizations (66 percent) surveyed had no plans in place for responding to an infectious disease pandemic before the COVID-19 outbreak. This is despite pandemic ranking highest in terms of impact and likelihood in the UK government’s National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies; and despite 61 percent of respondents having a business continuity plan which was considered to be up-to-date.

These findings were taken from Databarracks’ Data Health Check survey. The annual survey, which has been running since 2008, questions 400 IT decision-makers in the UK on a number of critical issues relating to security, disaster recovery and business continuity.

Peter Groucutt, Managing Director at Databarracks, said: “For years, pandemics have been consistently at the top of both National and Community Risk Registers as the hazard with the highest potential impact and likelihood of occurring. However, our survey shows that the COVID-19 outbreak caught the majority of UK businesses off guard, which represents a fundamental failure in business continuity and resilience planning.”

Groucutt believes that organizations can learn some valuable lessons from the crisis:

“Good business continuity shouldn’t be overly complex. In many ways it’s simply applying common sense at scale. There are reasons why organizations might neglect addressing particular risks like pandemics. Cognitive biases mean we focus more on the types of incidents that have happened to us recently rather than are most likely to occur. This is why we always recommend using National and Community Risk Registers in your planning. They won’t always be a perfect fit for you, but they serve as excellent sanity checks to make sure you aren’t missing something.

“The National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies included pandemic as a ‘Medium-High’ likelihood of ‘occurring in the next 5 years’. It even noted ‘In light of evidence from recent emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika, the likelihood of this risk has increased since 2015’. If more organizations had used these resources, there wouldn’t be such a gap in planning.

He added: “If we look at the organization that had the best response, there are lots of lessons. Operating across multiple sites, having remote working in place, not being dependent on single suppliers and a diverse customer base all reduce your risk and improve your capability to continue.”

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