Do recent events have you thinking about your agency’s continuity planning process and how it would stand up to a potential pandemic? The ongoing outbreak of the 2019 Novel Corona Virus (2019-nCoV) has had many emergency managers and continuity planners dusting off old notes from previous outbreaks such as SARS and H1N1 and trying to remember any lessons learned from past events. Here is a quick guide to preparing your organization for the next potential pandemic.
Continuity Planning vs Pandemic Continuity Planning
While we have covered 5 Steps to Better Continuity Planning in a previous post, the process for planning for a pandemic is a bit more nuanced. Our typical assumptions and action steps found in FEMA or DRI based continuity plans are really not suited for the realities and complexities of a pandemic. Traditional continuity planning assumes there is an impact to either a department’s leadership, or an impact on a key building, system, or resource. For pandemic continuity planning, the focus is geared more towards social distancing, personnel protection, and working with a limited workforce.
For most organizations, adding a little bit of additional information to their existing continuity plan is all that is needed to prepare for the next public health emergency. If your agency does not have an existing continuity plan, we would recommend starting there and then picking up with the action items below.
Action Steps for Pandemic Continuity Planning
- Review your existing Continuity Plan: Many agencies review their continuity plans on an annual basis, and the more recent the update, the easier this process will be. Regardless, start with reviewing the existing plans and specifically the list of essential functions to ensure they are still accurately documented and prioritized. Have you added any new essential functions?
- Work with a planning team to assess each essential function: Each essential function should be reviewed through the lens of a potential pandemic event. Are the essential functions still essential? Are the recovery times still accurate? Are there new essential functions that need to be added due to the pandemic?
- Assess external dependencies, requirements, and expectations: Will the pandemic impact your supply chain and other critical resources? Will the expectations of your customers or clients change during a pandemic? Are there laws or regulations that require a certain level of service regardless of the situation?
- Evaluate risk reduction strategies: Working with the latest public health guidance, what risk reduction measures can be put in place to limit the impact of a pandemic to your organization? Can you add barriers between your staff and clients? Can you limit meetings and the use of congregational areas in the workplace to promote social distancing? Is there additional personal protective equipment you can provide? Can the organization change work shifts to limit the number of people working together at any given time? How about telecommuting? All of these strategies may help to reduce the risk to your employees and organization during a pandemic.
- Outline operational changes: Essential functions are just that, essential! So many times you can’t stop providing a service but it may be time to change how the service is delivered. Do you need 5 employees working face to face with clients or can you reduce the number of interactions? Can you promote online services over having clients come into the office? Can you adjust the traffic patterns within your office to reduce personal interactions between individuals that aren’t necessary? Is that weekly face to face meeting really necessary? Making small operational changes may make a big impact on reducing your organization risk and making it through a public health crisis
Tools and Support
Using the concepts listed above, we have created a 1-page Continuity Planning – Pandemic Worksheet to help agencies plan for future events. The worksheet is intended to be filled out for each essential function listed in an agency’s continuity plan. If there are standard work elements between multiple essential functions, you may be able to group them into a single worksheet for simplicity.
Existing clients will receive the worksheet directly through our email system, however, the resource is available for anyone. You can use the form below to request a copy of the worksheet and start working through your planning processes today.
If your organization is looking for some additional planning support, please complete the contact form listed below and a member of our team will be in contact with you.
Sun Tzu once said, Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small, and while Continuity Planning is no small task, minor adjustments to your existing plans is an easy step to ensuring your organizations ability to weather the storm.