Risk Alert: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Responding Today and Preparing for Tomorrow
The Coronavirus has become a topic of conversation in board rooms and at the dinner table. The situation which was originally viewed as an isolated illness on the other side of the world has evolved into an event that is impacting U.S. businesses and Wall Street. The goal of this article is to help organizations and families understand what can be done to help prepare for and mitigate the social and economic consequences of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak. It should also be noted that this is a rapidly evolving situation and the information contained in this article is based on what is currently known and understood about the Coronavirus.
Organizations should view a pandemic event as not only a threat but an opportunity. Companies that have prepared in a meaningful way will have a distinct competitive advantage. Businesses who can remain open, even in a limited capacity will be able to meet the needs of customers, while unprepared competitors cannot. Any efforts taken toward preparation can also be leveraged to enhance an organization’s risk management effort. Prevention efforts help mitigate the impact of the seasonal flu, increase vendor and customer confidence, prepare for global supply interruptions, and promote the development of alternative solutions to day-in-day-out business risk factors. Essentially, any efforts to prepare will also help a company be more resilient.
Following the COVID-19 is much like watching a slow-moving hurricane. You understand there is an event and begin to calculate the chances of it impacting you, as well as how long you can delay preparing for it. While this is not the approach that is recommended, we understand that it is a common one. In today’s fast-moving world, people do not always have the time and resources to prepare for events with potential low probability, but high severity. Many view the COVID-19 in just this way, “it could impact me, but probably won’t”.
As Public Health officials predicted, COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. Preparing for a pandemic is unlike planning for other business interruption events. The first portion of this document will focus on how planning and preparing for a pandemic is much different than more typical types of business interruption events.
Emergency Policies and Procedures
In the event the COVID–19 begins having a widespread impact on domestic businesses, now is the time to review your emergency policies. Policies that businesses should review and/or develop include:
- Absenteeism policies – consider increasing allowable sick days to provide employees with the flexibility to stay home if experiencing symptoms or if children or seniors need care.
- Determine event triggers for delaying, altering work hours or temporarily closing the business.
- Event communication protocols – determine and communicate how you will stay in contact with employees and customers leading up and during periods of high illness.
- Threat analysis – It is essential to fully identify and understand the potential impact of internal and external risk factors. One of the most significant factors during pandemic situations is the human and political impact that can occur elsewhere in the world. Pandemic events can trigger foreign border closures and/or quarantines. Both conditions can result in the disruption of production and interruption of global supply chains. The result is that something entirely out of the control of domestic companies can directly impact their ability to receive and produce goods. The following activities can be employed to help minimize the potential impact of external risk factors:
- External risk factors
- Understanding the geographic origin of supplies and raw materials, as well as associated supply chains
- Determination and categorization of critical business processes, supplies, and materials
- Identification of customer priorities and needs
- Travel restrictions
- Local and federal public health quarantine and isolation protocols
- School closures
- Transportation outages
- Availability of needed supplies and materials
- Internal risk factors
- Ability to continue critical on-site and off-premise business processes
- Employee and family health concerns
- Employee absenteeism
- External risk factors
The conditions above should not be considered an exhaustive list of risk factors, rather an indication of the type of factors that could impact domestic businesses. Threats associated with a pandemic event could result in disruption anywhere on the globe. Domestic businesses not only need to develop plans to continue operations but also need to analyze their reliance on the global economy. Organizations need to be concerned about receiving goods and materials from suppliers and continuing operations, they also need to evaluate the risk associated with their customer’s ability to receive their goods and services. Additionally, in the event of reduced operating capacity, how will companies prioritize customer needs?
One of the foundational elements of Business Continuity Planning is the identification, consensus, and communication of business priorities. This may seem like a simple exercise, but it is not. It is extremely difficult to achieve complete organizational agreement and alignment of critical business priorities and processes. Additionally, in the event of reduced operating capacity as a result of any type of business interruption event, organizations need to determine how they would prioritize customer needs – even more difficult to achieve.
A Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is a process and tool that can be utilized to achieve organizational alignment of business priorities, as well as serve as the foundation of the development of Business Continuity Plans (BCP) to support business priorities. A BIA can return many benefits beyond preparing for a disaster. BIAs can identify and promote opportunities to increase work efficiencies, employee engagement, and customer confidence.
A pandemic is different than more traditional types of business interruption events in the sense that facilities are not impacted, but people are either unable or unwilling to come to work. As a result, efforts need to be made not only to understand critical business processes but also which ones require an on-site physical presence to complete versus ones that could be performed remotely. Potential business continuation strategies:
Critical functions and processes that must be performed to meet internal and external Potential strategies to continue operations include:
- Critical on-site processes: Note the word “critical”, during periods where the risk of infection is high critical processes must be continued, but non-critical ones can be delayed. This allows for greater flexibility to complete core operations while minimizing the potential for employee cross-contamination and infection. By reducing the number of onsite processes, the number of persons required to be on-premise is also reduced. This provides the opportunity to increase and maintain employee proximity to one another (social distancing). The end result is the ability to increase the physical separation between employees thus minimizing the chance of disease spread. Increased social distancing can also be achieved by operating additional work shifts. The result is fewer workers onsite at a given time, which allows for increased physical separation between employees.
- Critical Off-site processes: For purposes of this dialogue, off-site processes are ones that are either routinely performed off-premise or could be performed off-premise. These are most often office-based or electronic processes. As with on-site processes, non-critical processes can be delayed. The potential to perform critical processes off-site is much different than the ability to do so. Not only do remote policies need to be developed, but employees who may be needed to work remotely should have the opportunity to test and practice this ability. Those not accustomed to working in a remote work setting often struggle to be productive or even complete core tasks. The identification of persons needed to work offsite also provides the ability to ensure the remote infrastructure is suitable to perform needed work. This also helps to determine the amount of needed remote IT support help and efforts.
The goal of this article is not to provide a comprehensive view of the pandemic planning effort, rather it is to highlight some of the unique challenges and opportunities associated with such an event. Other considerations include but are not limited to:
- Incident Management Planning – event command and control
- Pandemic Plan activation criteria
- Vendor and supplier readiness and communication
- Emergency and hazard compensation
- Family and community preparedness and communication
- Travel guidance
The remainder of this document is focused on high-level efforts to prevent and minimize the spread of disease in the workplace.
Most preventive measures recommended for COVID-19 are consistent with guidance for the seasonal flu. A greater emphasis should be placed on these measures during periods of high risks through increased communication and enforcement. Learn more from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Guidance.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wearing a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
Increased communication and enforcement of “stay home if you are sick” policies may result in the need for modified company sick policies – increasing the number of allowable days during high-risk periods, eliminating the need for doctor notes, etc. Due to the potentially long incubation period for the COVID-19, employers may need to accommodate employee self-isolation for up to 14 days. Parents and caregivers may also need to take time off to care for sick children and/or seniors, as well as during periods of school closures. Non-modified absenteeism policies may encourage sick or potentially infectious employees to come to work.
In addition to improved personal hygiene, organizations can increase the frequency and visibility of cleaning efforts. The goal is to not only lessen the chance of infection but also to help mitigate employee concerns and fear.
While EPA officials believe many currently available disinfectants will be effective against COVID-19, tests have yet to be completed that confirm exactly which disinfectants are able to kill the virus. Once a determination of which products kill the virus and an understanding of how long it lives outside of the body are made actionable guidance will be made to help control the spread of the disease. Once this information is known, communicating it to the workforce will help to curb concerns and fears associated with coming to work.
Communication of increased hygiene and cleaning combined with social distancing guidance will provide organizations an increased likelihood of maintaining core operations during a pandemic event.
The best course of action during any potential business interruption event is situational awareness and communication. Staying abreast of rapidly evolving situations and regular communication of factual information to internal team members and external stakeholders put organizations in the best position possible to mitigate the impact and fully recover from the event. Several resources are provided at the end of this article that will help organizations stay current with the situation and provide the most current information available to prevent its impact.
In the coming weeks and months, much more will be known about COVID-19 and how as a global society we can come together to mitigate its impact. In additional local departments of health, the sources below contain valuable information to assist organizations and individuals in their efforts to stay current with the event.
Should you have any questions or needs relative to planning for the potential impact of COVID-19, please contact me directly:
Director of Risk Management & Client Experience
Note: This communication is for informational purposes only. Although every reasonable effort is made to present current and accurate information, Oswald makes no guarantees of any kind and cannot be held liable for any outdated or incorrect information. View our communications policy.