Pandemic Crisis and Business Continuity: Management Planning and Preparedness– Critical…Waste of Time…

Pandemic crisis: The goal is to get through it– meaning stay alive. Staying alive requires planning even for an event that many think is unlikely; but it’s happened and it will probably happen again… so, it’s important to be prepared…

A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through human populations across a large region, continents, worldwide… Throughout history there have been several  pandemics, such as; smallpox, tuberculosis… Recent pandemics include; HIV, H1N1… However, disease or condition is not pandemic merely because it’s widespread or kills many people– it must also be infectious. For instance, cancer is responsible for many deaths, but is not pandemic because it’s not infectious or contagious.

According to Dr Keiji Fukuda; an easy way to think about pandemic is to say: a pandemic is a global outbreak. Global outbreak means that we see both– spread of the agent and disease activities in addition to the spread of the virus. For example; HIV spread to U.S. and much of the rest of the world beginning around 1969. According to projections by U.N.; HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is currently pandemic, with infection rates as high as 25% in southern and eastern Africa, and its death toll in Africa may reach 90–100 million by 2025. AIDS could kill 31 million people in India and 18 million in China by 2025…

Then, there was the ‘Great Influenza Pandemic’ of 1918-1919; global disaster that was caused by a novel and deadly strain of avian influenza virus; and responsible for millions of deaths. In contrast to 1918, today we know what causes influenza (virus) and how it’s transmitted, and we know how to produce vaccines, though it takes time to manufacture and administer them. Current models of possible impact of a flu epidemic in U.S. suggest that between 15% and 35% of the population would be affected and 100,000 to 200,000 would die (medium-level case). Rates of infection and mortality would probably be similar in other developed economies. In poorer countries impact would be greater.

The World Health Organization predicts— 2 million to 7.5 million deaths worldwide. Political and economic effects would be severe… All companies, especially energy and communications, have responsibility to be prepared and continue their operations in crisis. Planning for pandemic crisis can also help prepare businesses for other emergencies, such as; natural disaster, terrorist attack…

The potential impact on business can be significant; quarter-or-more of working population would have to take days-off because of sickness or caring for sick family member. Some businesses are more important for economic stability and community well-being than others; food stores, banking services, medical supply delivery… Each pandemic is different and the impact on businesses and overall populations will only be known and fully understood as pandemic evolves– but, business must be prepared…

In the article Economic Cost of Flu Pandemic by Mike Moffatt  writes:   A few times each decade the world is gripped by fears of pandemic, such as; the H5N1 bird flu of 2006 and the H1N1 swine flu of 2009. During each outbreak there are legitimate fears that the outbreak may morph into a flu pandemic of the likes not seen in the Western world since 1918-1919. Needless to say the possibility of pandemic that could cause loss of hundreds of thousands of lives is bound to get people’s attention…

Disease control researchers tend to talk about ‘when’ the flu pandemic might hit, not just ‘if’. Beyond terrible cost in human life, economies would take a severe hit, hurting the livelihood of billions.

According to Milan Brahmbhatt, World Bank; most immediate economic impacts of pandemic might arise not from actual death or sickness but from the uncoordinated efforts of private individuals to avoid becoming infected. This at least was experience during SARS, when people tried to avoid infection by minimizing face-to-face interactions, which resulted in severe demand shortage in business services sectors, such as; tourism, transportation, retail sales, hotels, restaurants…

Also, severe supply shortage due to workplace employee absenteeism, disruption of production processes and shifts to more costly procedures. This led to an immediate economic loss of perhaps 2% of East Asian regional GDP in second quarter of 2003, even though only about 800 people ultimately died from SARS. Note: 2% loss of global GDP during global influenza pandemic would represent around $200 billion in just one-quarter (or $800 billion over a whole year)…

In the article Businesses Must Prepare for Pandemic Outbreak by Scott Mugno writes: Pandemics are inevitable and businesses must be prepared by developing continuity plans… Pandemics will happen and have happened regularly throughout history. For examples; the 1918 Spanish flu, responsible for 40 to 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 deaths in U.S.; the 1957 Asian flu that caused one-to-four million deaths, 70,000 in U.S.; and the 1968 Hong Kong flu responsible for one-to-four million deaths, 34,000 within U.S.

Not to mention increasing cases of avian bird flu developing worldwide. It’s necessary for businesses to have a continuity plan in place before the next major pandemic outbreak. The key is for businesses and public to stay informed… and take precautions… The message from U.S. government is; given magnitude of a severe pandemic influenza; individuals, families, businesses and local and state governments must prepare for pandemic and not count on federal government for significant portion of support and relief: Stay informed and communicate, communicate, communicate…

The economic and human impact of pandemic is costly. According to ‘Trust for America’s Health’ Analysis; pandemic could cost U.S. economy about 5.5% decline in annual GDP…

In the article Business Plan for Pandemic by David Brown writes: In a recent survey, more than half of U.S. companies think there will be a global flu epidemic in near future. Two-thirds think it will seriously disrupt their operations, as well as, foment social unrest. But two-thirds also say they aren’t prepared. One-third of executives surveyed say nobody in their organization has been appointed to plan for pandemic; another one-quarter couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the question. 

According to Tommy G. Thompson; corporations are looking at this like deer in headlights, they don’t know which way to go… they are hoping it’s not going to hit them. Pandemic influenza is latest imponderable facing businesses, a form of unwanted globalization that threatens life and health of even smallest companies in the most literal way. Several surveys show that small but growing number of companies is convinced– as are many epidemiologists– that global flu outbreak is inevitable. But, how ready is the business world? For example; governments don’t require companies to have pandemic response plans and most ‘boards of directors’ doubt that they are even necessary.

According to Thompson; only one-in-five U.S. companies are in good position, in terms of having a plan and being able to react effectively– and even those will need continual update and improvements. Current models based on seasonal influenza and three 20th-century flu pandemics; suggest that new and highly contagious virus strain would spread across U.S. in about five weeks. At least one-third of the population is likely to become ill with peak absenteeism about 40% of the workforce. Depending on strain’s virulence, 900,000 to 10 million people might be hospitalized, and 200,000 to 2 million might die.

Given this scenario, companies should expect that a pandemic will kill some employees, temporarily cripple workforces, sow confusion and fear, and force people to make harrowing decisions between allegiances to work or family. Communication will be difficult; threaten supply chains, interrupting production of goods, delivery of services…

Experts say that operational decisions are most important and will have greatest impact, for example: Who can work at home? Who needs IT upgrades in advance to make that possible? Who needs to come in? What lines of production or service can be shut down without jeopardizing entire enterprise? Who are designated back-ups for key management positions? Here are few pandemic planning tips for business preparation:

  • Crisis management plan tailored to pandemic.
  • Plan for alternative workforce in event that large portion of workforce is impacted by pandemic. Estimates are for potential absenteeism rates of 10 to 25%, with larger rates in metropolitan areas.
  • Emotional impact of such events as death and potential of death on workforce families, as well as, the workforce in general.
  • Contingency plan for reduced production or services based on reduction of customer demand, labor force, raw materials, energy resources… needed for operation.
  • Work cooperatively with other companies for  critical business services.
  • Tele-working, telecommuting, videoconferencing and part-time shifts.
  • Capacity of Internet connectivity and information security protection.
  • Customer engagement plan and outreach programs.

Businesses that are not prepared could suffer devastating financial and human losses. As predicted by some business and health experts, a severe influenza pandemic could cause the demise of two-of-five businesses. Of three that survive, one will close within two years. It’s the self-interest of all businesses to take measures to insure their survival in the event of a crisis.

Business has responsibility to provide safe work environment and precautions to protect the health of its employees, customers, or other visitors, under all situations. Failure may not only result in financial and human losses, but also potential lawsuits from those who are harmed. Publicly-held companies have either, implied or explicit obligation to see that business continuity plans are in place that will insure viability of the business, and protect the interests of stakeholders.

Most major industries have specific regulatory bodies with strict laws that require protection, including; banking, health care, insurance, securities, telecommunications… According to I.M.F.; potential disruptions to trade and payment systems could expose financially vulnerable firms to possible bankruptcy.

Many business-specific precautions must be taken, in advance, to minimize devastating effects of pandemic. As with any catastrophe, contingency plans must be in place and continually reviewed and updated to insure that they stay current. The plan must address how to keep the business functioning at an acceptable level during the crisis, considering that as much as forty percent of the work force could be affected.

A pandemic could last for months at a time and come in several waves… When it comes to pandemic, we’re all in this together. Sick pigs and sick people… a virus in Mexico… an infection in New Zealand– in globalize world, microbial threats that seem far away can be on doorstep in hours.

According to CDC; as a global community, we are only as strong as our weakest link, and if we want to prevent the next pandemic– or at least survive it– we all, and especially business, need to plan for it…