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Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: the inconvenient necessity of a pandemic business continuity plan (pbcp)

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: the inconvenient necessity of a pandemic business continuity plan (pbcp) 1

By David Jemmett, CEO and founder of Cerberus Sentinel

The strongest businesses are the ones who have wide-ranging plans in place for every eventuality. While companies typically avoid assuming the worst, planning for the worst can help a business survive a major crisis. Covid-19 by every measure constitutes a major business crisis, one for which many companies have found themselves woefully unprepared. This article outlines the elements of a pandemic business continuity plan so you can draft one for your company.

Why is a specific pandemic plan needed?

Traditional business continuity planning is standard practice for most companies. Such plans cover the internal and external aspects that impact their business activities. External aspects are things that are beyond their control: economic downturns, political instability / changes in government, or a natural disaster. Internal aspects are things that happen inside the company: public relations nightmares, loss of funding, a disgruntled customer or employee.

The PBCP is entirely different, it focuses solely on mitigating the impact of a health pandemic, something that traditional continuity plans may only mention in passing. Due to the unpredictable and potentially devastating nature of a pandemic, traditional day-to-day business continuity plans will not be effective enough due to their lack of specific detail. Therefore, it is crucial that you create and maintain a plan focused specifically on the threat of a pandemic; a plan that will ensure the health and safety of your business and your staff. This plan should be developed in conjunction with up-to-date guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO).

What should your plan contain?

Your PBCP is organized into 5 phases, each with 4 key steps:

Preparation Phase:

This phase covers the initial actions that must be completed before a pandemic:

  1. Identify crucial business processes
  2. Raise internal awareness
  3. Communicate responsibilities
  4. Demonstrate preparedness

The planning process can be streamlined by categorizing and allocating the various necessities of your business to the appropriate staff. By outlining what you need, you will be able to assign the actions that are required to maintain business as usual which will minimize uncertainty at every level of the business from the boardroom to the front lines.

Leadership teams must then communicate their plan clearly by training employees on their obligations and company expectations for how workers will continue to perform their duties in a safe and secure manner. Often this includes measures to be implemented within an office or retail environment (such as social distancing and face mask policies) and may also include guidelines for working from a remote location (such as a home office). This must also include the selection of tools, technologies, and procedures that correspond to the implemented changes, as well as staff training on how to properly use these affordances. As well as, maintenance of physical inventories that provide a buffer during a supply side slow down.

Maintenance Phase:

This phase is crucial for ensuring your PBCP is truly relevant, actionable, and provides for timely activation.

  1. Review business operations/activities
    David Jemmett

    David Jemmett

  2. Review policies and procedures
  3. Review tools and technologies
  4. Monitor external information sources

Response Phase:

This is the moment you have been preparing for…it’s go time!

  1. Activate your plan, provide the requisite resources, and implement your policies
  2. Verify that all actions are being taken to maintain continuity of critical operations
  3. Verify that your staff is fully equipped, knowledgeable, and safe
  4. Monitor external information sources

Return Phase:

  1. This is the moment you are waiting for during a pandemic…the “new normal”
  2. Assess the impact of the pandemic on the broader market
  3. Identify the best path forward for your team and your business
  4. Communicate this path with your team and outline clear expectations and obligations

Assessment Phase:

This phase is where you evaluate your original plan, the effectiveness of your staff, and changes necessary to adapt to the unexpected.

  1. Identify successes and failures
  2. Give your company a grade
  3. Identify deviations from expectations
  4. Modify your plan to adapt to what you learned

The key aspect of any assessment of preparedness is to be honest and transparent. Pandemics challenge businesses in unforeseen ways and survival depends on flexibility, commitment, and determination. With an effective PBCP you have a great starting point and thus the highest likelihood of successful navigation.

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