2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which is believed to have caused the deaths of more than 50 million people. A pandemic is a global outbreak of a disease, such as influenza. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), past influenza pandemics have led to high levels of illness, death, social disruption and economic loss. The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, which affected 213 different countries and has led to over 18,000 confirmed deaths, is just a small example of the potential impact of such a pandemic.
Though it is too early to evaluate the full economic and social impact of the H1N1 pandemic, it is safe to say that it could have been much worse. Due to the world’s ever-expanding population and the prevalence of international travel, the worldwide impact of a pandemic could be catastrophic, and predicting the size of the threat is difficult. Given the uncertainty of future flu outbreaks and their potentially enormous impact, businesses need to take steps to prepare themselves now.
While we are currently experiencing a flu epidemic, it is not likely to become a pandemic, but there are things employers can due to prepare and minimize the effects of the flu on their employees and their business.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), companies often begin assembling a business recovery plan after a disaster strikes—when it’s too late. While currently the flu epidemic is at the top of the news, planning shouldn’t be limited to influenza, but rather based on the need for business contingency planning in general. Every area in the country is subject to some kind of natural disaster, such as a flood, hurricane or earthquake. Man-made disasters, such as an oil spill, bio-terrorism or fire, can also be devastating. Preparation today helps you plan for your business’ survival tomorrow.
Planning For an Epidemic or Other Disaster
The first step is to create or update a business continuity plan. It should include preparation and planning for disasters, such as a medical crisis, and be integrated into business processes.
When planning specifically for an epidemic or pandemic, your business needs are unique, so you’ll need to conduct a risk-management assessment of your own business to ensure continued operation. Here is a sampling of things to review and consider:
- Identify an individual in your organization who is responsible for all disease planning, monitoring of epidemic situations and emergency actions.
- To minimize business disruptions, review how you work with employees, customers, consumers, contractors, media, etc.
- Do you have the infrastructure you need to run your operations with up to 40 percent of your staff out ill or caring for sick family members?
- Identify essential job duties, operations, work functions, personnel, supply chains and distribution methods. Create or identify backup workers, methods or processes in the event of business interruption.
- Consider building up inventories in case foreign or domestic suppliers and transport services are interrupted.
- Keeping people apart to limit the spread of illness can be crucial to avoid an epidemic situation. Consider supplying employees the equipment and support they need to telecommute if their jobs allow.
- Develop other strategies for reducing close contact in the workplace, including utilizing e-mail, phone and other digital communication methods rather than in-person meetings.
- Consider expanding your online business opportunities.
- Promote awareness of the problems associated with a flu epidemic: alert employees about what steps you’re taking and what they can do to stay healthy and limit the impact.
- Develop multiple strategies for communicating with employees, customers, consumers and the media.
- Review sick-leave and pay policies to ensure they don’t discourage workers from staying home when they’re ill. In the event of influenza or other highly contagious illnesses, sick employees should be encouraged to stay home to prevent the spread of disease.
- Develop a travel policy that restricts travel to areas where the virus is active.
- Stock up on masks and sanitizers, and consider staggering work hours during epidemic situations to limit the size of gatherings.
Use History as a Guide
Using government data based on the previous three influenza pandemics (not including the 2009 H1N1 pandemic), up to 30 percent of the population was affected, and roughly 10 to 20 percent of workers were affected for periods that ranged from two to four weeks. These statistics may be useful benchmarks to determine the level of disruption that could potentially impact your operations. Remember that many healthy workers would also need to miss work to care for sick family members. Also anticipate and prepare for major breakdowns or disruptions in services, such as sanitation, water, power and transportation, plus access to hospitals and health care systems.
News and information about pandemics can change frequently. The CDC and WHO have large surveillance programs to monitor and detect influenza activity around the world. Businesses are encouraged to stay informed by visiting www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/ for up-to-the-minute information.
Business Continuity Planning
Regardless of your company’s size, business continuity planning is a must. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the survival rate for businesses without a plan following a disaster range from 5 percent for small businesses to about 30 percent for large ones. Begin crafting a business continuity plan today to avoid potentially catastrophic losses in the future.
For more information and continuity planning resources, contact your business insurance specialists at Roper Insurance by email here, or by phone at 303-721-1145.