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6 March 2020

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Planning for a Pandemic


Few organisations consider a pandemic scenario when putting together a Business Continuity Management programme. This may be because pandemics are seen as an unlikely event. Or because previous similar threats, such as SARS, have failed to materialise and the investment required to develop a contingency plan is not considered to deliver value.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) may represent a genuine global threat, one that businesses should be prepared for.


What do we know about Coronavirus?

Coronavirus (Covid-19) has already spread to more than 60 countries including the UK. The virus is still being researched and is not yet fully understood. Current findings suggest that:

  • Transmission of the virus is thought to be via droplets, either via infected surfaces or requiring proximity of up to 2 metres.
  • Incubation is between 2 and 14 days (World Health Organisation) before symptoms are presented but may be longer.
  • Persons who have contracted the virus are contagious within a few hours of infection and remain so until the symptoms have cleared.
  • Recovery times vary according to age and underlying health of the individual. The mortality rate within a typical workforce of ages 20-60 years with 100% infection is circa 1.5%

It is likely that at the point where one person in the workforce is diagnosed with the virus, many more may already be infected, depending on their movement in the preceding two weeks and any control measures that may have already been imposed. The research suggests that fairly simple physical measures such as the use of sanitising hand gels, disinfecting of surfaces, avoiding non-essential travel and meetings, etc., can be effective in providing the workforce with a moderate level of protection.

Reasons to consider writing a pandemic response plan

  • People sit at the core of a business, so planning for employees to be absent from work through illness is an essential consideration when developing a pandemic response plan. Due to the distinct characteristics of Coronavirus (Covid-19), it is possible that multiple staff may be hospitalised or quarantined due to infected individuals continuing to attend work up to the point that symptoms are presented, and the diagnosis confirmed. This is likely to result in multiple absences for a significant period. A coherent strategy is required to ensure that the business survives the impact.
  • Considerations should be given to your suppliers. They after all are facing the same risks, which could result in them being unable to deliver products and services to you. This could include raw materials, parts, services, utilities, etc. You need to plan for this eventuality, and this may include ascertaining what contingency plans your suppliers have in place.
  • It will be important to maintain stakeholder confidence before, during and after the event. This includes anyone with a vested interest in your organisation from shareholders to customers, staff and suppliers. A decisive and coordinated crisis and communication plan will be required.
  • Widespread employee absence from your organisation and the failure of your suppliers may not be covered by any insurance policies you may have in place.


Business Impact Analysis (BIA)

When preparing for employee absenteeism, the first step is to review your business impact analysis.

This is a systematic process that evaluates an organisations critical services, products and processes. Identification of these allows the business to focus the available workforce to ensure the continued delivery of these critical functions.

The BIA identifies which employee groups and skillsets are essential to the delivery of critical functions. This allows the business to understand the impact a loss in personnel may have on the organisations ability to maintain them.

Effective planning around employee shortages is essential. The BIA process places a timescale on any downtime establishing how long the business can survive without a critical function. The contingency strategy should consider the possibility of up to 50% of staff being absent during a pandemic.

Consideration should also be given to the risk of employee absenteeism in other organisations that could impact your business and your supply chain. For example, will public transport services be affected due to staff shortages of unavailability of fuel. Absenteeism may be exacerbated by employees being required to stay at home to care for ill children, etc. Identifying employees who are critical to the delivery of key products and services and including childcare responsibilities and transport requirements as part of the assessment, will better enable organisations to understand their vulnerabilities. Cross training of employees, alternative sources of workforce i.e. agency staff, recent retirees, etc., and working from home are all steps that should be considered.

Understanding your supply chain and identifying alternative suppliers and /or substitute products are excellent ways of ensuring your business is prepared. The use of lean supply chains and ‘just in time’ deliveries means that many organisations are susceptible to even small disruptions and do not hold contingency stock. Even if a pandemic doesn’t reach the UK, there is still the potential for disruption to supply as staff shortages in other countries may interrupt production of affect the transportation of goods and services. A robust supply chain assessment is an essential part of a pandemic response plan.


Crisis Management

Having prepared a pandemic response plan, it is necessary to consider how to respond should the risk become real and begin to impact business operations. A crisis management plan will outline command, control and communication arrangements and provide clear structures and processes on how to deliver an efficient and effective response, which will be essential for coordinating activities and enabling the continuity of critical functions.


Key Actions

  • Update your Business Impact Analysis
  • Develop Business Continuity Plans
  • Review your Supply Chain Assessment
  • Develop a Crisis Management Response Plan