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Business Plans Must Account For Pandemic

When I was first introduced to business continuity in the early 2000s, the ‘buzz word’ was the H1N1/H5N1/avian influenza better known as the bird flu. Many major global players, such as Toyota and Sony, were beginning to develop and test response plans for this contagious event.

There was very little emphasis ,and few contingencies available, for business here in the Bahamas, as we were still caught up - like most of the western world - on the residual impact of 9/11. Thus for us, terrorism was our ‘buzz word’; the biggest priority. As a result of the heavy influence from our American-based tourist product, our government focused on airport and sea port controls.

But, after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, many folks, security and business continuity practioners alike, were painfully reminded that readiness for events such as hurricanes, which give little or no control over timing and occurrence, should not be neglected.

This naturally occurring emergency quickly developed into a national disaster for the US federal government. Yes, there was considerable damage caused by wind and rain, but the failure and loss was in the timeliness of the response and recovery efforts. In fact, almost 10 years later, New Orleans is still recovering. We can see this in many of our Family Islands, such as Exuma and Cat Island, where infrastructure from 2011’s Hurricane Irene, and Hurricane Ike in Inagua in 2008, is still recovering

Similarly, a slow response to contagious and terminal-type diseases can cause disastrous implications such as mass panic, the fast collapse of health resources, commercial services becoming overwhelmed, and business disruption. Thus enter the pandemic, which is usually associated with disease but really speaks to large-scale fear of potentially catastrophic or life-threatening events.

In my opinion, illness and sickness is never given the type of priority it should get in business operations, as it is seen as a personal matter. The typical company response is the issuing of sick days for the purpose of rest, recovery, isolation and quarantine. Little regard is given to mass sickouts. But what happens to your company if you lose 20-30 per cent of your staff as a result of sickness or injury, directly where they are actual victims, or indirectly when they are reasonably afraid to leave their homes.

Far-fetched, you think? Let’s look at the company picnic or birthday party for a member of your international staff. During these festivities, all employees are eating and drinking from the same source that may have become contaminated. Perhaps you have planned a day- away retreat for senior managers and it is determined that they will be bused or boated to the remote location. I hope these simple examples open your mind to how easy it is to have a shortage of staff.

Now given that the Bahamas has numerous offshore entities with parent companies in Europe and Asia, the concept of pandemic is not new. I can remember as early as 2006 seeing full-blown procedures on how a local European-based company would respond to such outbreaks in our jurisdiction. Highly noted in this company’s plan was the detail that there were limited health resources available, and the forercast for the overwhelming of the health system in a pandemic situation was less than 48 hours. So you can imagine that this plan was very simple and straight to the point.

We are now seeing in the media daily updates of reported instances of Ebola, I am not a doctor, so I encourage you to visit the World Health Organisation’s website at http://www.who.int/en/ to learn more about this deadly disease. Also on this site is an Ebola Response Road Map, which provides detailed information that may be useful for your corporate strategy.

From the continuity of operations perspective, plans are very general as they emphasise contingencies for critical operations. The good news is if you have a well thought-out Business Continuity Plan (BC Plan/BCP), then you have already identified staff shortage as a major operational risk.

Your strategy and tactics to address this particular threat have already given you a jump start on how your business will respond to such events. A fundamental rule of good Business Continuity planning is not to get caught up in the causation factors, as they are too numerous to count. The emphasis, based on your business impact analysis, is identifying no more than three to five recovery priorities and building your plan around those.

The shortage or unavailability of staff can be caused for several reasons,. Thus if we were to replace the parties with ‘Ebola’, the fact of the matter in both scenarios is you do not have employees available to come into work. You essentially do not have any employees. Think about it; no staff for one hour during your busiest time is like having no staff at all for one week or a year. Do not confuse this with working from home; the only equalisers here are death or resignation, because if they are sick can they really work and produce? But, as I indicated before, a Business Continuity Plan Plan in 2014 should address this key risk.

In September it was rumored that an air-lifted patient had died of Ebola in a local hospital. This was quickly found to be misinformation. However, during the period of uncertainty, panic spread across of New Providence. This was a false alarm but it also gave persons like myself an opportunity to observe public and private sector response.

It should have also been used as test case for your initial readiness and response strategies. Given our heavy reliance on tourism and the daily initiatives to increase visitor arrivals, we become prone to the undetected entry of contagious sickness. The infectious nature of uncertainty on the island should not be taken for granted, especially when we consider our limited resources and how our location can impact the daily operations of the island and, subsequently, your business.

• NB: Gamal Newry is the president of Preventative Measures, a loss prevention, asset protection training and management consulting company, specialising in providing security management services, policy and procedure development, business security reviews and audits, and emergency and crisis management. Comments can be sent to PO Box N-3154 Nassau, Bahamas, or e-mail gnewry@preventativemeasures.org or visit us atwww.preventativemeasures.org

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