Pandemic response planning: It’s more important than you think

At this point, you have probably seen and heard quite a bit about the Zika virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now reported travel-associated cases of the Zika virus in more than 20 U.S. states. Even so, is it really something with which to concern yourself?

In today’s global environment, having a high traffic, public-facing business like a credit union branch can bring global problems to your door faster than you think. So whether it is Zika or the next virus we will inevitably need to confront, having a pandemic response plan in place that benefits both your credit union and your members is vitally important.

It’s About More Than Just Pandemics
Often times, the resistance to creating a pandemic response plan is the feeling that there is an unlikely possibility that the plan will ever need to be enacted. But in actuality, a strong response plan can be utilized every year. The National Institutes of Health reports that nearly 111 million workdays are lost each year due to the flu alone, costing businesses roughly $7 billion in lost productivity. Every year. Just think about how many sick days your employees have already used in January and February.

The first step in most pandemic plans is communications to employees about how a particular virus is spread. If you already have this strategy in place as part of your pandemic plan, why not use it every winter to help your employees cut down on contracting and spreading the common cold? The CDC even has flyers that businesses can print for free and put in bathrooms or other high traffic areas to promote employee awareness. Recouping part of this lost productivity provides a high return to your credit union with very little investment.

Preventing a Business Continuity Crisis
Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC use a series of stages to define the lifecycle of a pandemic outbreak. Most organizations with pandemic response plans currently mirror these stages, outlining escalating steps as the outbreak worsens:

  1. Awareness posters and emails
  2. Hand sanitizer stations placed throughout the facility
  3. Increased frequency of cleaning bathrooms, break rooms and common areas
  4. Requiring employees who exhibit signs of the virus to be sent home and not allowed to return to work until receiving proof from a medical professional that they are healthy
  5. Restricting access by visitors and guests to your property

These steps are important and have their place in a solid pandemic response plan, but they all focus on one thing: preventing the spread of the virus inside your organization. The challenge for most businesses – credit unions included – is that at the end of the day, we go home, go to the grocery store, go to our kids’ schools – we are out and about in the community. As this happens, employees may get sick. Based on the steps outlined above, these employees would not be allowed back in the office. And this is the key area that most pandemic plans lack: how to deal with increasing absenteeism.

As a virus makes its way through the community, absenteeism rates are likely to rise. Maybe you can handle 5-10% of your workforce being unavailable, but at some point you will hit a number that puts your ability to sustain normal business operations in jeopardy. You now have a business continuity crisis on your hands.

To prevent this from happening, you should first and foremost make sure your pandemic response plan and business continuity plan are not standalone documents. As the WHO or CDC determines that an outbreak is increasing in severity in your area, your pandemic response plan should have a set, pre-defined trigger that invokes your business continuity plan. What steps does your business continuity plan outline in case of a disaster? Consider having employees work from home, move back office processes to other out-of-area offices, and have vendors and partners pick up non-member-facing work temporarily. Implement all of the things you would do if you were to declare a disaster early on in response to a pandemic incident.

Being proactive in preparing for high absenteeism will help ensure that you are able to contain the situation as just a pandemic, and not a business continuity event that could jeopardize your business.

James Green

James Green

James Green leads the business continuity program at PSCU. He is passionate about life safety and helps credit unions understand the importance of business continuity not just during an emergency, ... Web: Details