Why you shouldn’t develop a new Pandemic Plan

Jul 3, 2020

This week’s guest author Anthony Martin discusses why you shouldn’t develop a new Pandemic Plan based on COVID-19.

As lockdown continues to ease and normality, or at least ‘new normality’ edges ever closer, organisations should be looking to reinforce business continuity and crisis management by investing in it. The idea of creating a new Pandemic Plan seems the obvious move, there is an abundance of data on COVID-19, the effects are plain to see and assuming your organisation has carried out a COVID-19 debrief session, there will be lessons learned that are ready to be implemented. With the risk of another pandemic sitting firmly at the top of many risk registers, including the UK’s National Risk register, organisations are prepared to spend resources on developing a new Pandemic Plan from the ground up, based on what they have experienced from COVID-19.

But they shouldn’t.

Why new Pandemic Plans are not the answer:

  1. The disease itself will not be the same and your plan may not support the required response – The UK government’s response was based upon a plan for a flu pandemic and not an unknown disease like COVID-19. Known flu viruses have a developed vaccine to support the response and recovery from a pandemic, and many people already have a level of immunity as a result of past exposure. It is less likely that a widespread global lockdown would be required for a known flu pandemic. COVID-19 is a new disease with no vaccine in place and the impact has been catastrophic as a result. Global economies have been brutally impacted, entire organisations are working from home or at a reduced capacity. However, what are the chances of this same severity of pandemic happening again and in the same way? Is it worth investing time and resource in a plan that is perhaps obsolete before it’s even written?
  2. Government intervention created too many unknowns and made it very difficult for organisations to respond as they intended – National lockdown added extra pressure on decision-makers to make quick and effective decisions within defined parameters. Unless you were amongst the ‘key industries’ you likely had to reinvent your operations to accommodate the whole organisation working from home and/or take up the furlough scheme. Achieving activity RTOs was difficult for many because business continuity solutions generally do not account for an inability to leave our homes or balancing working with 24/7 care duties.
  3. Going forward, any future pandemics will be handled better – Governments who did not adequately prepare for a pandemic before will now be preparing, especially as there has been heavy criticism of those caught short. Future responses to similar events will be better. Pandemics are spread by the movement of people and the majority of those people now have more knowledge of actions to take as a result of COVID-19. Even down to the level of individual staff members, there will be more awareness and preparedness for future pandemics.
  4. There is likely to be incident scenarios that will occur which are more worthy of planning, especially if resources are limited – Pandemics are global by nature, making them much more difficult to manage and prepare for than say a localised IT disruption. That’s not to say we can’t build response knowledge and resilience within our organisations to prepare for pandemics; but that can be done in another way. Think of the impacts of COVID-19: denial of access to premises, reduced staffing and/or productivity, negative impact to staff welfare and mental health, interrupted supply chains, reputational damage, communication issues. Sound familiar? We account for these in our BCPs and Crisis Management Plans. Enhancing the plans we have in place by incorporating lessons learned during this pandemic can prepare us to respond in future without the need to fully invest in a separate planning process.
  5. Many measures implemented during the COVID-19 response will change how organisations operate and better place them to deal with future pandemics – Working from home has been fully utilised, technology invested in, and office spaces adapted to meet new COVID-19 distancing and hygiene rules, and they are generally much safer places. These measures are our new ways of working and are new default recovery strategies, staff are already aware of the part they play in adapting the business and keeping safe.

What to do instead:

An overall investment in business continuity is a more effective means of moving forward. Enhancing resilience by improving existing capabilities or implementing business continuity into your organisation for the first time will add value to your organisation. This ensures that minor and even major incidents are managed efficiently and gives your organisation the best chance of bouncing back after a significant disruption such as COVID-19.

This bulletin was written by guest author Anthony Martin.

Anthony is a Consultant at our sister company PlanB, who we work with to help organisations around the world become more prepared for business disruptions.

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