Can your business survive a pandemic?

Published 22 February 2006

Researchers say that mankind suffers a pandemic every thirty years or so. Well, we are long overdue for the next outbreak. The lesson learnt from mini-pandemic SARS should have trained businesses to be more vigilant and be ready with their preventive measures. Are they ready? Business continuity plans (BCPs) will surely be put to test. Many business continuity plans focus on infrastructure and data recovery. Few pay attention to the human element — a key determining factor in business recovery.

In businesses, the very first question one should ask in a pandemic scenario is: What will be the greatest loss a company is likely to face? The answer cannot be more evident — the loss of its productive workforce. Statistics show that the Spanish Flu infected one in every four Americans during its occurrence. This implies a conservative estimation of 25 percent ill employees, in addition to those who were absent from work due to fear and the need to care for stricken family members. It is thus high time to review business continuity plans by taking into consideration biological threats with widespread impact on productivity and hence, business survival.

In most pandemics, group gathering activities are always discouraged because this is likely to promote the spread of contagious diseases. This condition could persist for medium to long term, depending on the availability of medical treatment and the speed of recovery. As a result, companies need to plan for key staff unavailability over an extended period of time. If a company adopts a command-and-control culture, the risk could be mitigated by empowering some semi-autonomous business units to participate in decision-making. This also makes good management sense because it helps to build a team of competent mid-level management employees who can withstand the challenges of turbulent times.

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