Pandemic Flu Business Continuity Planning for Organizations
“Many organizations read about the possible pandemic flu, but cannot completely digest the issues and preparations needed to sustain its mission critical operations and services.”
This paper discusses about the pertinent aspects of pandemic flu business continuity (BC) planning. In the last two years, there is an increase in organizations preparing themselves for the possible influenza (flu) pandemic outbreak. The key challenge in the preparatory process is the synchronization of the business continuity plan and procedures with the World Health Organization’s and the local health ministry’s pandemic alert phases. Several probable outbreak situations, and several more possible variations in responses to them, makes the planning process one of the most complicated challenges facing business continuity professionals. The key outcome is the understanding of the scope of implementation of contingency, BC or crisis management plans and the application of the BC execution stages to implement the necessary actions to prepare an organization of the impending pandemic flu outbreak.
Even though we have experienced three previous pandemic flu outbreaks in the 20th century, no one knows precisely how a pandemic might unfold. However, the recent developments and discoveries about the virus provide some clues as to what we can expect. World Health Organization has warned that the risk of the avian flu becoming a human influenza pandemic is high. Most governments throughout the world have and will continue to take necessary precautionary measures and update their pandemic flu BC and/or preparedness plans.
2. Framework for Pandemic Flu Planning
Planning for the unthinkable pandemic flu may appear to be a humongous and complex set of tasks. It ranges from the possibilities of a small outbreak in any country to a global disaster that undermines the basic functions of life. Organizations without any existing BC or contingency plans will be overwhelmed by the planning complexity. Many of those without the necessary resources and BC planning capabilities have unwisely adopted the “wait-and-hope” approach. For organizations located in regions previously affected by the Several Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, a good and logical point for any organization to start is with the review of its Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) contingency or BC plan.
The concepts and approach contained in this paper does not follow the conventional BC planning methodology. It has been specially designed as a fast track planning approach to help organizations prepare against the impending pandemic flu threat. The consideration is based on the need to develop an immediate, simple and effective plan to manage this threat; especially for organizations that do not possess existing contingency or BC plans.
Health experts believe that the pandemic flu virus is continuously evolving. Hence, it is imperative for organizations to develop and implement a BC plan that is flexible and adaptable to the evolving threat; which can be easily and regularly updated as and when more information on the virus is available, through the joint efforts by the communities and governments.
There is a constant debate on what to name the plans that we develop for this crisis. Some organizations call it pandemic flu BC plan while others call it pandemic flu contingency plan. For clarification, some of the definitions and terminologies of the components of these plans are discussed in the following subsections.
2.1 Contingency Planning
Contingency planning is the process of developing advance arrangements and procedures that enable organizations to respond to events happening by chance or to unforeseen circumstances.
2.2 Business Continuity Planning
Business continuity planning is the process of developing advance arrangements and procedures that enable an organization to respond to an event in such a manner that critical business functions continue without interruption or essential change. In this paper, contingency planning is a subset of BC planning.
2.3 Pandemic Flu Contingency Plan
A pandemic flu contingency plan is used by an organization and its business units to respond to disruptions to operations resulting from exposure of employee(s) to a pandemic flu incident.
2.4 Key Objectives of BCP for Pandemic Flu
- Reduce the transmission rate or morbidity among employees and customers
- Continue and/or recover mission critical operations and services
3. Non-conventional Business Continuity Planning
Pandemic flu BC planning differs from traditional BC planning or the Year 2000 or SARS BC planning because organizations:
- Cannot afford to wait the next few months as the pandemic spreads rapidly, and the impact is significant and immediate
- Cannot expect to follow a traditional business continuity event timeline
- Need to react as quickly as possible
- Need to execute BC plans immediately
- Should expect some fatalities and high absenteeism within the workforce
- Need to consider where the employees are residing, and possibly, relocate them back to their home country
- Must expect closure of borders by the government; thus, critical operations for organizations highly dependent on cross-border workers will potentially be disrupted
- Must understand that the magnitude of the damage cannot be clearly defined as it extends beyond the organizations and country’s boundaries
- Should consider legal issues and risks as this is a predicted event
- Expect outage/absenteeism for a protracted period of time
- Should consider non-compliance of outsourcing agreements
4. Key Disaster Scenario
One of the business continuity (BC) best practices is to define the key disaster scenario. This scenario provides a common perspective to the executive management, BC project manager, BC team, IT Disaster Recovery Planning team and even the Crisis Management team.
The key disaster scenario should be based on the worst-case situation – occurring at the most vulnerable time; resulting in damages and losses of the most severe magnitude, like total loss of information, physical infrastructure and equipment.
The traditional BC planning focuses on denial of access to facilities. However, but the pandemic flu BC plan focuses on denial of access to facilities, and loss of key people. Hence, the assumptions to cope with a pandemic BC planning are very different. In addition to this basic difference, there are many other assumptions that a BC planner must quickly look into with regard to pandemic flu BC planning.
5 Pandemic Flu BC Planning Asumptions
5.1 Length of Disruptions and Absenteeism
Medical experts have projected that at least 25% of people will contract the virus during a full-scale pandemic. There are two possible levels of disruptions: short and medium term, and long term. In Figure 3, these assumptions are depicted as business disruption scenarios.
5.1.1 Short and Medium Term Disruption
- The percentage will be higher than 25% as staff may be staying away from work to care for family members due to quarantine or closure of school.
- An estimate of 25% absenteeism should be taken as a “low estimate” for medium term disruption. In larger cities, this percentage may increase to 50% or more for short periods.
5.1.2 Long Term Disruption
- In the event of a full pandemic, it is predicted that business will not return to normal for a period of 6 to 18 months. The best case scenario is if the pandemic is relatively benign and handled effectively by national governments. The worst case scenario is the possibility of major financial centers being moderately impacted. A working assumption of a severe disruption lasting 12 months would be supportable.
- There will be a huge reduction in international services such as tourism and offshore financial services.
5.2 Multiple Sites Disruptions
• Should there be a pandemic flu outbreak; the situation would be unpredictable as more than one business location could be impacted.
5.3 Maintain Separation of Personnel
- Authorities will discourage, or even prohibit, gatherings or concentration of large numbers of people so as to limit human-to-human transmission of the disease.
- Decentralization (reduce human-to-human contact) of key personnel becomes mandatory i.e. autonomous decision making.
5.4 Continuous IT Operations
Provided that the continued operation of key infrastructure (data centers, networks and systems) is accorded highest priority, the major problem is one of managing the people resources.
5.5 Disruption to Supply Chain
During an outbreak, one part of the world may be mildly affected; but, their operations may still be impacted if their suppliers are in other countries that are seriously affected by the outbreak. One major concern for organizations is that the current supply chain and outsourcing arrangements may not operate at contracted service levels. Organizations that are highly automated, ‘just in time’ value chains, outsourcing core activities to third parties will be seriously at risk.
5.6 Local Denial of Access
In developing the pandemic flu BC plan, organizations should consider the following office closure scenario:
- Staff affected by pandemic flu resulting in closure of office.
- Staff members being quarantined for five days or more (subject to local health authorities’ guidelines).
- Office closed for one to three days for cleaning.
- Duration required by staff to recover from influenza (the minimum recovery duration will be at least two weeks).
5.7 Ineffectiveness of Temperature Checking
It is important to understand that infection cannot be detected by temperature checking as a person could carry the virus for more than a day before any sign of a fever appears.
5.8 Variation of Health Support and Preparedness
In reviewing the country’s pandemic flu health support, the level of preparedness forms an important consideration when developing your BC plan.
6 BC Execution Stages and Pandemic Timeline
The planning assumptions are a pre-requisite for the implementation of the pandemic flu BC plan. This is followed by the understanding of the typical BC execution process and the WHO’s pandemic stages.
6.1 BC Execution Stages
Figure 1: BC Execution Stages
The execution of a typical BC plan (Figure 1) includes the following stages:
- Recover/ Resume
- Restore/ Return
6.2 WHO’s Pandemic Stage with BC Execution Stages
Those who are familiar with the WHO’s pandemic stage requires little explanation on the timeline. The key in pandemic flu BC planning is to match the various BC execution phases with the WHO’s pandemic flu timeline.
Figure 2: Pandemic Stages and BC Execution Stages
6.3 Pandemic Timeline and BC Execution Stages
Finally, the objectives is to show the correlation of each WHO’s pandemic stage and the BC execution phase. The mapping provides the BC professionals to map their professional BC knowledge and implementation to the possible disruption to business scenarios as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Pandemic Timeline and BC Execution Stages
7. Types of Plans and Extend of Planning
There is a need to be aware of the types of plans that an organization will be implementation in preparation for the pandemic flu outbreak. The important difference is the scope and extends of implementation. They are the contingency plan, BC plan and crisis management (CM) plans.
7.1 Pandemic Flu Contingency Plan
A typical Pandemic Flu Contingency Plan consists of only the following components:
- Reduce; which is to focus on the preventive measures
- Respond; which is to focus on managing and containing the pandemic flu incident
- Recover and Resume; which is to conduct limited planning for the outbreak except for some high level documentation process to handle the critical business functions
A pandemic flu contingency plan must handle:
- Preventive measures to minimize contamination (pandemic flu prevention)
- Immediate responses to a disaster (pandemic flu emergency response)
7.2 Pandemic Flu BC Plan
A Pandemic Flu BC Plan will include the pandemic flu contingency plan and in addition, it must handle:
- Subsequent business recovery and resumption activities
- The return of business to normalcy
It is essential to note that in some situations, the “business resumption” and “return to normal” processes can be conducted in parallel with the pandemic flu contingency plan.
7.3 Crisis Management Plan
Crisis Management (CM) plan is a plan used for the overall coordination of an organization’s response to a crisis in an effective, timely manner, with the goal of avoiding or minimizing damage to the organization’s profitability, reputation or ability to operate.
The definition of crisis and the crisis management team is provided below:
- Crisis is a critical event such as pandemic flu, which, if not handled in an appropriate manner, may dramatically impact an organization’s profitability, reputation, or ability to operate.
- A Crisis Management team will consist of key executives as well as key role players (i.e. media representative, legal counsel, facilities manager, disaster recovery coordinator, etc.) and the appropriate business owners of critical organization functions.
7.4 BC Execution Stages versus BC Planning, CP and CM
Figure 4: BCP Stages Mapped Against Planning Processes
The relationship among the various planning processes, namely, BC planning, contingency planning (CP) and crisis management (CM), is shown in the Figure 4.
It is essential for BC planners to fully understand the WHO’s pandemic framework and its corresponding stages and phases. The activation by the WHO may result in an escalation by the local government. It is suspected that the local governments and health authorities will escalate their pandemic flu alert status ahead of the WHO.
In summary, the pertinent aspects of pandemic flu business continuity (BC) planning were discussed. The key challenge for the businesses is in the preparatory process is the synchronization of the business continuity plan and procedures with the World Health Organization’s and the local health ministry’s pandemic alert phases. Several probable outbreak situations, and several more possible variations in responses to them, makes the planning process one of the most complicated challenges facing business continuity professionals. The key outcome is the understanding of the scope of implementation of contingency, BC or crisis management plans and the application of the BC execution stages to implement the necessary actions to prepare an organization of the impending pandemic flu outbreak.
9. About the Author
Dr Goh Moh Heng is the President of BCM Institute and is regarded as one of the leading practitioner in the area of business continuity. He hold a PhD and also been awarded the highest level of certification from the three major business continuity management institutes. He is the author of nine business continuity management books. Dr. Goh is instrumental in creating the first Wikipedia for BC www.BCMpedia.org. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 BCMpedia (2008). Definition of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Terminologies, http://www.bcmpedia.org
 Goh, Moh Heng (2008). Managing Your Business Continuity Planning Project, 2nd Edition, 166 pages.
 Goh, Moh Heng (2006). Developing Your Pandemic Influenza Business Continuity Plan, 128 pages.