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The COVID-19 global pandemic has impacted millions, shut down the economy, closed thousands of businesses, and altered the way we view business continuity management and pandemic planning. For several years governments and companies have debated if pandemic planning was even necessary because of the low probability of an occurrence, notwithstanding the annual routine of seasonal avian influenza prevention.

The first quarter of 2020 changed all of that, ushering in a new interest and vigor surrounding business continuity management and pandemic planning. The combination of refreshed business continuity management – coupled with an updated pandemic plan – will provide organizations with pivotal options to help protect the health and well-being of their employees and the financial health of the organization.

Disasters are naturally part of the human experience, although the impending crises are unpredictable but are not unexpected. Risks which pose the greatest threat to organizational stability and supply chain operations include the following:

  • natural disasters
  • pandemics
  • industrial failures or accidents
  • political instability
  • civil instability or unrest
  • advanced information technological failures constructed by organized crime
  • technological interdependency failures

Business continuity management is planning for the unexpected threat which could lead to undesirable disruptions along an organization’s supply chain. Effective business continuity management ensures the business organization can provide an acceptable level of service when a disaster strikes, preserving its financial stability, reputation, brand, and consumer confidence. An unexpected business disruption could have cascading consequences leading to an inability to provide product or service fulfillment.

Organizations which implement a business continuity management plan are recognized as being resilient to a broad spectrum of risks, and those which can continue to operate during a disruptive event may attract new customer ventures.

A strong pandemic plan, coupled by a well-defined business continuity plan, may help define the organization’s position as a supporter of society’s critical infrastructure. This allows an organization to operate under strict conditions or guidelines (as we have all recently experienced) and it may be the difference between healthy employee relations and layoffs. A well-defined pandemic plan is suggested to include the following:

  • A uniform pandemic policy with a statement of commitment from leadership
  • A communication plan which addresses internal and external stakeholders
  • Leadership emergency management structure with defined roles and responsibilities
  • Prescriptive procedures which address conventional and high-impact diseases such as influenza, coronaviruses, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, or other highly communicable diseases
  • Countermeasures which underpin layers of defense to keep infections out of the organization’s population such as good personal hygienic practices, use of personal protection equipment, social distancing, employee wellness checks, and facility cleaning
  • Alternative work methods and continuity of operation instructions which address at-risk or vulnerable employees, and non-essential employees
  • Non-essential or vulnerable employee re-introduction plan

It is critical to remember, plans which are not exercised, reviewed, or updated will not be useful to an organization during an emergency or critical disruption. Take that final step in the planning process and include training, drills, exercises, and annual review.

COVID-19 has already disrupted many lives and organizations. Take this time and renew your commitment to developing, implementing, or reviewing your business continuity and pandemic plans. The plans may save your organization from experiencing a crippling interruption in the future. Renew your commitment to reducing risk, increasing resilience, and making your workplace safer.


Matt Ziska

Matt Ziska, Ph.D., CSP, CHMM, CBCP, is director of continuous improvement and environmental health and safety for CW Hemp, Inc.

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