A solid business continuity plan is designed to protect an organization from a wide range of different situations, both expected and unexpected. If your physical place of operation suffers a catastrophe like a fire, you need to be able to get back on your feet as quickly as possible. If you suffer a burglary, you need to rest easy knowing that all of the projects that you and your team have been working hard on aren’t lost along with those physical assets – that you can pick right back up where you left off for the sake of both productivity and everything you’ve worked so hard to build up to this point.
But something like a power loss, or a natural disaster like an earthquake or hurricane, is one thing. What happens if the event that you’re now faced with is something with potentially far more disastrous consequences, like a pandemic?
If a pandemic strikes, as it did in 2009 with H1N1 or even the recent Ebola outbreak, the last thing on your mind is probably business continuity. At the same time, it needs to be – only this isn’t the type of thing you can start worrying about “if” it happens. You need to start thinking about the threat and impact of something like a pandemic today so that you can guarantee you’ll be armed with the most appropriate response when you need it the most.
Preparing for a Pandemic: What You Need to Consider
When a pandemic situation occurs, it typically spreads rapidly across a huge portion of an area’s population. Consider the SARS outbreak in Toronto, for example, which not only caused a 14-week emergency in Toronto and claimed the lives of 40 people, but also saw more than 30,000 people quarantined in their home or in hospitals across that same period. All told, the city lost nine conventions (and the 12,000 jobs they were expected to generate) and lost $39 million in revenues in just April 2003 alone.
But a pandemic doesn’t even have to be as severe as SARS or H1N1 – not in a world where between five and 20% of the population gets the flu every year. Things get particularly bad in areas where people tend to congregate, like at schools or in public places… or in your office.
To be clear: your number one concern in the wake of a pandemic is and should always be the health and safety of your employees. But at some point, you have to think about the effects that this type of situation will have on your business, which are potentially catastrophic. Just a few of the consequences of a pandemic can include:
Your business continuity plan may currently address what you’ll do if you suffer a power outage for a few days… but does it address what will happen if 50% of your workforce is absent indefinitely due to school closures requiring them to stay home and take care of their kids? Do you know how you’ll address a situation where 40% of the people who do remain at work fall ill at some time during the next few weeks? Do you know how you’ll push on when your absenteeism rate balloons to 100%, which it is likely to do at some point after a pandemic begins?
These are the types of situations that a pandemic could cause that desperately need to be considered as part of your business continuity plan. It’s about more than just operating in an environment that is different than you’re used to – it’s also about being able to prepare for (and thus, survive) the startling new reality that a pandemic might present.
But even going beyond general terms, you also need to consider these and other types of situations in the context of the unique business that you’re running in the first place. You need an intimate understanding of both your external and internal operational dependencies to really understand your specific infrastructure needs. Only then will you begin to get a better idea of how they will change over time as a pandemic unfolds and, ultimately, what you will need to do in response.