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Viral Outbreaks, Pandemic Planning, and Business Continuity

Posted on Thu, Aug 30, 2012

On August 16, 2012, the city of Dallas declared a state of emergency over the West Nile virus, a disease spread by infected mosquitoes. As of August 21, 2012, the outbreak in Texas caused 19 deaths and 537 illnesses. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 1100 people and 41 deaths had resulted from this latest surge of West Nile Virus nationwide. The Dallas outbreak spurred officials to commence aerial pesticide spraying aiming to eradicate the local mosquito population, despite concerns from the public.

 “The risks of being harmed by these pesticides are not at all unreasonable.  Basically, in this case, I think the benefits of these sprays far, far outweigh the risk.” - Mike Raupp, of the University of Maryland College of Agriculture

To limit exposure to West Nile Virus, the CDC urges preventative measures such as bug repellent and eliminating extraneous standing water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Preventative measures can limit the implications of of an outbreak and minimize potential pandemic situations. 

Companies should also institute preventative measures to limit potential outbreaks through pandemic planning. Pandemic Response Plans (PRP) are a specific emergency response planning annexes that aim to establish and preserve business continuity in the event of a pandemic outbreak among the local population and/or the local workforce/contractors. The PRPs should document procedures and methods to sustain critical business functions with minimal staffing throughout different stages of an outbreak.

“Best practices” dictates that PRPs, like emergency plans, should be developed during normal conditions, prior to any threatened outbreak. When developing enterprise-wide PRPs, the procedures corresponding to the various outbreak impact levels would be incremental, building on the previous outbreak level.  Examples of level and procedures are as follows:

  • Level 1 - The outbreak is being controlled within the affected area with minimal hazard to personnel, property, process or the environment.
    • Establish contact verification and notification measures with key stakeholder (both internal and external)
    • Decide whether it is appropriate to progress to using the PRP or if normal management procedures can manage the incident
    • Conduct pandemic plan briefings and promote awareness
    • Determine and validate current priority projects and processes to determine which to suspend, if necessary
    • Direct staff to maintain and backup all business information and working files (data and documents) so that content is accessible to alternates and other staff members
    • Acquire necessary peripherals (e.g. external disk drives) for home use, if needed
  • Level 2 - The outbreak is contained but disturbs two or more critical areas affecting personnel, processes, or the environment beyond the origin.
    • Notify staff members of PRP activation
    • Contacts staff to inform them of the revised operational procedures. Staff may be directed to work from remote locations, if feasible
    • Maintain tracking of all staff, assess well-being of staff, and identify any needs for support.
    • Direct staff to maintain and backup all business information and working files (data and documents) so that content is accessible to alternates and other staff members
  • Level 3 - The outbreak has escalated to a situation that is potentially dangerous to personnel, the surrounding community, and the environment. It would likely involve business as usual scenario with limited on-site staff. 
    • Only essential employees who cannot work remotely would report on-site
    • Determine and validate current priority projects and processes to determine which to suspend, if necessary
    • Review and establish guidelines for backfilling of resources and business group leadership
    • Confirm availability of local and/or remote alternates for critical roles
    • Maintain tracking of all staff, assess well-being of staff, and identify any needs for support.
    • Direct staff to maintain and backup all business information and working files (data and documents) so that content is accessible to alternates and other staff members
  • Level 4 - Emergency Service Level with minimum staffing. However, typical business operations can continue to function.
    • Notifies internal and external entities with dependencies on critical business operations.
    • Determine and validate current priority projects and processes to determine which to suspend, if necessary
    • Proactively notify corporate executives, team leads, and other contacts of availability and work location, and maintain out of office phone, e-mail notices, and calendars, as appropriate.
    • Distribute peripherals (e.g. external disk drives) for home use and distribute as needed
    • Direct all staff to work at home, if possible. Staff that are not able to work from home may work from the site, as necessary.
  • Level 5 - All non-critical operations are suspended and critical business processes are examined for those that can be suspended.
    • Maintain tracking of all staff, assess well-being of staff, and identify any needs for support. Confirm contact information through calling tree:
    • Implement modified operations schedule with critical staff.  Excuse non-critical staff and place on standby.
    • Maintain critical staffing levels and engaging emergency contractors.
    • Secure facilities
  • Level 6 - Return to normal operations after situational assessment.
    • Communicate resuming operations date with staff
    • Review time records and pay overtime as required
    • Update and archive file directories, if necessary
    • Update Pandemic Plans, as necessary

To limit business disruption from severe weather and HUrricane preparation, download the Corporate Hurricane Planning Checklist.

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Tags: Pandemic Planning, Business Continuity key points, Emergency Management, Incident Management, Workplace Safety, Business Disruption