With Covid-19 we have witnessed the degree of impact that a pandemic can have for our communities and businesses. The consequence of such pandemic diseases hitting organizations require us to be prepared for emergencies and as such warrants detailed planning for response activities should similar episodes occur again. It’s a good idea for workplaces to be prepared for the unexpected, with a pandemic plan in place before a crisis hits so you can protect your business, educate your people, and keep your customers and partners safe.
There’s now more attention and guidance than ever on how to prepare for such emergencies. But what’s often seen missing is a simple guide to get started with a plan. This article hopes to provide that outline for being prepared which is to focus on what we can do and what we need to do. We’ll see how to start the process, what to include in the plan, and key areas to focus.
Pandemic coming from Greek ‘pandemos’ – meaning whole population – is an epidemic of an infectious disease that spreads around the world, causing serious illness in humans and spreading fast with very few having immunity against it. Planning for such an event includes understanding the best practices to limit the spread of a disease, the operating changes that might need to be considered if an outbreak were to occur, challenges that both leaders and staff may face, and so on among other things — all of which forms a part of the company’s business continuity and emergency preparedness responsibilities.
1. Create a Crisis Preparedness Team
In the modern day scenario, the mobility of workers requires companies need to consider the regional impact of a pandemic and how it could affect the lives of their employees. Depending on the organization these locations may be simple or complicated. So one of the first steps would be to create planning teams by region and create a coordination group to liaise the various activities from time to time. Lets break it down.
Like most planning processes, planning for epidemics and pandemics requires all stakeholders be involved, including members from inside and outside of your organization. Internal people includes members from the Crisis Management team, HR department and coordinators from various departments apart from a senior member tasked with leading the coordination. Some of the considerations you should have while selecting the team include availability, accessibility and good communication skills. External stakeholders can include local crisis/health committees as well as national and international organizations acting in these capacities.
2. Define Sources of Information
It is important to establish the sources of information that need to be followed while planning and responding to a health emergency or other crisis. It is advisable to check with the specific health ministries of the country you’re in as well as with other national and international organizations that are tasked with health and travel activities. Organizations may also hire specialists in crisis and risk management to help with preparing for pandemic and other threats.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is one such body to follow. It has put in place International Travel and Health information site that includes updates for travelers, prevention measures, and disease distribution maps. At local level organizations like Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States provides the required support. Their websites includes travel notices, most recent epidemic/pandemic updates, alert levels by area, and resources to locate a travel health specialists.
3. List the Actions to be Taken
It is important to have a clear list of activities that the Crisis Management Team need to be doing. Prepare the checklists and schedule all recurring tasks. Compile the tasks and delegate them. Have escalations and fallback charts drawn and communicated with all members. Here’s a quick checklist of things that need to be clearly defined:
- Define the defined roles and responsibilities for each member of the preparedness and response planning team. These include internal and external coordination, insuring supplies, travel and logistics, etc.
- List out the skeletal (or essential) employees who may be required to keep the business running
- Keep tab of materials, services, transport, etc that may be required at short notice. Insure stock of essential ones, and Identify suppliers who can deliver at short notice
- Stock essential stuff like masks, PPEs, etc and monitor them for possible expiry dates
- Prepare for how your clients may behave during such a crisis
- Collect emergency contact information of all employees and their families, and keep them regularly updated.
- Plan for employee absences during a crisis and how arrangements such as work-from-home can be initiated with quick notice
- Draft policies to reassure employees, build trust and ensure their safety and well-being considering unique experience that a pandemic can bring
- Pandemic business travel policy that includes policies on restricting travel to infected areas, evacuating employees from such areas, and guidance for returning employees.
4. Devising a More Detailed Plan
One the checklists and outlines are in place, the members can start working on preparing a more detailed plan on how to respond to a pandemic threat. This includes setting thresholds and defining the triggers at various levels followed by a detailed response plan for each. A critical part of an effective response plan is to be able to know when to begin implementing the various steps. A late trigger may leave the business and staff vulnerable to infection, while early implementations may waste resources that could be critical later in the event.
Creating awareness among all employees and their near and dear ones about the various mitigation measures is also essential. The team needs to continuously educate them on practices that will help prevent the spread of illness. These can be done at work through awareness sessions, signs or posters in common areas, team communications, and regular reminders. The best practices should include things like sneeze and cough etiquette, hand-washing instructions, social distancing guidelines, and list of symptoms that should result in self-isolation.
5. Ensuring Compliance
It’s important to stay connected and let employees as well as other stakeholders like investors, vendors, suppliers, and customers know what’s happening at every step. They should know who to contact and what to expect in terms of support and updates in proper manner — whether it’s over email, intranet, website, or numbers they can call on. The team should be able to provide the latest information about medical emergency response, like how to get consultations or vaccines, and be able to provide information about at-home care of ill employees or family members.
Even during a crisis, regular rules relating to sick leave, paid family leave, non-discrimination, minimum wage, overtime, and so forth still apply. In some cases, these laws may even expand or change rapidly in response to a crisis. The team may need to choose to be more lenient with people during such challenging times. Ensure that support is provided at all times and that all communications clear, culturally appropriate and accessible.
All of the work that goes into a pandemic preparedness plan comes from the thinking and planning that takes time and resources provided by the crisis management team and it’s an ongoing process. To ensure that the organization get the most benefit out of it, they should ensure that it is not a checklist that’s write once and forgotten. Take steps to circulate the plan by adding it to the employee handbook, intranets, or other places that will allow staff to revisit and revise it on a regular basis so it’s ready when you need to call on it.
Even when you’re not in the midst of a pandemic, there are things you can do on an ongoing basis to ensure your business is prepared such as to provide regular emergency training and drills. The team may also collaborate with state and local public health agencies, emergency responders, insurers, and major local healthcare facilities to participate in their planning processes by sharing the pandemic plans, and understanding their capabilities.