March 10, 2020
Joel Gomes

Pandemic Action Planning for Organizations: Preparing for An Outbreak

March 10, 2020
Joel Gomes

As a business owner or a senior leader, your employees look to you for direction and guidance in times of uncertainty or adversity. A potential pandemic outbreak or a regional crisis is going to be one of those times of adversity and uncertainty. It’s also a good time for new leaders to be “born” or realized. Engage and allow your “Human Resource”, your people, to partner with you in weathering an uncertain situation. Communicate, communicate and communicate. Then, calmly check everything off this list, and you can rest easy knowing you’ve done everything you can.

Planning Principles

In preparing for and responding to, a serious disease outbreak, or a potential pandemic, an organization should aim to achieve the following:

· undertake dynamic risk assessments of potential health and other impacts to the organization, using the most recent public health notification, regional authorities provided guidance, the best available scientific advice and “on the ground” evidence to inform organizational decision-making.

· minimize the potential health impact by slowing spread within the organization and its locations as applicable. Reduce the risk of infection spread, illness absences and potentially more severe impacts like extended hospitalization needs and potential sever impacts among its employee population.

· minimize the potential impact on logistics, raw material supplies and core operations processes, along with identifying key service protocols to allow effective “keeping the lights on” business continuity.

· maintain trust and confidence among the leadership of organization and employee groups who perform key roles within the organization. Effective, regularly scheduled and transparent communication is key to this.

· ensure compassion, fairness and a reasonable approach (keeping in mind basic Human Rights), towards employees who may potentially be impacted and affected.

· be an active and responsible regional/local player — working with local and regional health authorities in supporting efforts to detect the local (organizational) emergence of related illnesses and by sharing information with public health as necessary.

· ensure that an organizational pandemic preparedness Plan (PPP) or a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) has been previously reviewed and ready to be invoked. Ensure adequate technology, process and other logistical resources for employees who will be participating in the implementation and ongoing operation of this plan.

· be guided by the evidence, and regularly review updates from local and regional health agencies. Learn from current events to fine tune and enhance future organizational pandemic preparedness and Business Continuity response needs.

Organizational leadership and administration should be planning an initial response based on information available at the time, in a context of uncertainty, this can be scaled up and down in response to new information to ensure a flexible and proportionate response. The fundamental objectives should be to deploy phased actions to appropriately React, Contain, Mitigate and Deploy the above noted PPP and BCP policy process as appropriate.

Action Phases

The different phases and scale of actions depends upon how the course of the pandemic or disaster unfolds over time. The organization should continuously monitor local, national and international data, in an effort to predictively model what might happen next, over the immediate and longer terms, to ensure and enhance preparedness. Thus, the overall phases of a plan to respond to a disaster or a pandemic are:

· React: Timely actions is invaluable based on information available from local and regional authorities. Internal events occurring within the organization may also be the impetus to react appropriately and in a timely manner.

· Contain/Delay: detect early issues or employee impacts, follow up as needed, isolate and prevent the illness or event from further impacting additional processes and or persons for as long as is reasonably possible.

· Refresh/Research: Keep up to speed with developing news and information releases from local authorities and health agencies to better understand the issue and therefore assess/formulate the actions that will lessen impacts on the organization and its employees. Innovate responses including processes and logistics as needed; get input and buy in from employees; use the evidence to inform the development of the most effective course of action.

· Mitigate: provide the best support possible for employees who become ill. Do not require continuation of work and allow sufficient support and partnership so impacted employees can focus on recovery. Work with remaining staff to distill core functionality to maintain essential processes to keep the organization running. Be mindful to not overburden staff as these stressors in an already trying time will lead to errors and other detrimental impacts to organizational operations. Ensure communication of ongoing support for employees who are affected. Continue with the regular and effective communication protocol with all employees to ensure that everyone is “on the same page” and “pulling in the same direction”.

The Bottom Line

A pandemic situation is something that should be taken seriously, but there’s no reason to panic. Having a plan in place, executed with a rational follow through and logical approach will help your organization to weather most situations. Organizations must never underestimate the importance of timely, transparent and effective communication that provides relevant information and coordinates processes among its staff. Remember, you’re all in it together.


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