What is your Company’s Pandemic Policy? Maybe you already have one…

“Given our heavy reliance on tourism and the daily initiatives to increase visitor arrivals, we become prone to the undetected entry of contagious sickness…”

When I was first introduced to business continuity in the early 2000’s the buzz word was the H1N1 / H5N1/ avian influenza, better known as the bird flu. Many major global players like Toyota and Sony were beginning to develop and test response plans to this contagious and limited control type of situation. There were very little emphasis and few contingencies available for business here in the Bahamas, as we were still caught up like most of the western world on the residual impact of 9/11 and thus for us, terrorism was our ‘buzz word’, the biggest priority.

As a result of heavy influence of an American-based tourist product our government focused on airport and sea port controls. But, after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina many folks, security and business continuity practioners alike, were painfully reminded that readiness for unexpected happening events like hurricanes, which provide little or no control regarding timing and occurrence, should not be neglected. This naturally occurring, and surprisingly announced emergency event quickly developed into a national disaster for the Unites States Federal Government. Yes there was considerable damage caused by wind and rain, but the failure and loss was in the timeliness of the response and recovery efforts. In fact almost 10 years later New Orleans is still recovering. We can see this in many of our family islands such as Exuma and Cat Island where infrastructure from 2011 Hurricane Irene and 2008 Hurricane Ike in Inagua.

Similarly, a slow response to contagious and terminal type diseases can lead to disastrous implications such as mass panic, fast collapse of health resources, overwhelming commercial services, and business disruption. Thus enter the pandemic, which is usually associated with disease but really speaks to large scale fear of potentially catastrophic or life threatening events.

In my opinion illness and sickness is never given the type of priority it should in business operations as it is seen as personal matter. The typical organizational response is issuing of sick days for the purpose of rest, recovery, isolation and quarantine. Little regard is given to mass sickouts. What happens to your operations if you lose 20 – 30% of your staff as a result of sickness or injury, directly where they are actual victims or indirectly where they are reasonably afraid to leave their homes? Far-fetched you think?

Let’s look at the company picnic or birthday party for member of your international traction unit staff. During these festivities all employees are eating and drinking from the same source that may have become contaminated. Perhaps you have planned a day-away retreat for senior managers and it is determined that they will be bussed or boated to a remote location. I hope these simple examples open your mind to how easy it is to have a shortage of staff incident.

Now the fact that the Bahamas has numerous offshore entities with parent companies in the Europe and Asia, the concept of pandemic is not new. I can remember as early as the 2006 seeing full blown procedures on how a local European based company would respond to such outbreaks in our jurisdiction. Highly noted in this company’s plan was the detail that there were limited health resources available, and the projection for overwhelming of the health system was less than 48 hours. So you can imagine that this plan was very simple and straight to the point.

We are now seeing in the headlines daily updates of reported instances of Ebola. I am not a doctor so I encourage you to visit the World Health Organizations website at http://www.who.int/en/ to learn more about this deadly disease. Also on this site is an Ebola Response Road Map, which provides detailed information that may useful for your corporate strategy. From the continuity of operations perspective plans are very general as they emphasize contingencies for critical operations.

The good news is if you have a well thought out business continuity plan (BC Plan / BCP) then you have already identified shortage as a major operational risk. Your strategy and tactics to address this particular threat has already given you a jump start on how your business will respond to such event types.
A fundamental rule of good BC Planning is not to get caught up in the causation factors as they are too numerous to count. The emphasis should be based on your business impact analysis by identifying no more than 3 – 5 recovery priorities and build your plan around those.

In my previous example of a staff shortage scenario, and how it can be caused by several reasons, one can next replace those with ‘Ebola’; and the fact of the matter in both scenarios is that you do not have employees available to come in to work. As a matter of fact, you essentially do not have any employees. Think about it, no staff for 1 hour during your busiest time is like having no staff at all for 1 week or a year. Do not confuse this with working from home, as the only equalizers here is death or resignation, because if they are sick, can they really work and produce? As I indicated before, a BC Plan in 2014 should address this key risk.

In September 2014 it was rumored that an air lifted patient had died of Ebola in a local hospital, this was quickly dispelled to be misinformation. However, during the period of uncertainty, panic spread across the island of New Providence. This was a false alarm, but it also gave persons like myself an opportunity to observe public and private sector response. It should have also been used as test case for your initial readiness and response strategies.

Given our heavy reliance on tourism and the daily initiatives to increase visitor arrivals, we become prone to the undetected entry of contagious sickness. The infectious nature of uncertainty on the island should not be taken for granted, especially when we consider our limited resources and how immediacy of isolation can impact the daily operations of the island and subsequently your business.

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