Traditionally business continuity has focused on the impacts of an incident on an organisation’s infrastructure and the assumption is made that there will be sufficient people with the right skills available to manage the response and recovery at the time.
So far, so good. But what happens when the ‘people’ element is removed to such an extent that it is no longer possible to satisfactorily maintain the critical activities of the business, due to a significant reduction in personnel and the associated loss of skills.
There are a number of business continuity threats that could impact the availability of personnel from health events, industrial action, the adverse effects of severe weather on transport or natural disasters.
Of these, the worst case scenario is perhaps a wide scale illness that has the ability to infect large numbers of people over a period of time, possibly with devastating consequences, such as a public health emergency, epidemic or pandemic caused by a novel flu or corona virus. Even lesser localised events can disrupt operations to the extent that key individuals, teams, contractors or suppliers become unavailable.
ISO 22313 recognises people as a significant resource that if impacted by an incident could undermine the organisation’s ability to recover effectively. Therefore as part of the business impact analysis, consideration should be given to understanding how critical activities could be impacted by a loss of key personnel and skills.
Pandemic Business Continuity Planning
To understand how a widespread disease could impact workforce numbers, it is helpful to undertake a separate pandemic critical function analysis. By taking a worst case scenario for the potential level of absenteeism, the critical activities of an organisation in a pandemic and the resources required to carry out those activities over an extended period of time can be defined. Minimum staff numbers and key skills are then determined to enable strategies to be developed to ensure essential activities can be maintained.
The information obtained from the analysis can be incorporated into a separate pandemic business continuity plan or used as an appendix to the organisation’s main business continuity plan. Whatever format is adopted, it is essential that all plans will work together to ensure a robust response mechanism is in place.
Teed has spent many years assisting clients with their pandemic planning and has gained a real understanding of the elements that need to be considered during the analysis and the development of appropriate strategies and contingencies.
Business areas are taken through a critical function analysis generally using a workshop approach which enables key personnel to come together to talk through the possible impacts of a pandemic on their area and the organisation as a whole. Business areas may have specific objectives to be met whilst adhering to the organisation’s overall aim and these can be focused upon during the analysis process.
Key to the success of pandemic planning is ensuring there is a mechanism in place to assess the potential impacts posed by a virus in terms of severity and virulence. With an impact assessment in place, it is possible to plan ahead and ensure appropriate measures are in place to mitigate the likely impacts. As with all business continuity threats, planning for the worst case will identify actions that can also be taken to deal with lesser health events.
Pandemic plans can be used to respond to other scenarios where key staff or teams or other groups of people are potentially unable to attend work in the short, medium or long term.
A useful checklist of key actions and issues to be considered when developing people and pandemic plans can be downloaded as a PDF:
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