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Volume 31, Issue 1

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The criticisms have already started; H1N1 was just hype and scaremongering. It was all a con. There never was a pandemic. It was just another Y2K. But you know what? Yes, it was another Y2K. It was a major threat that was managed well and didn’t do the damage it might!

Any of you who worked through the Y2K time will know just how many lines of code were corrected, and in the end there were few problems worldwide. If nothing had been done then the dire predictions would have proved to be true. In many ways it was the largest and most successful IT project ever undertaken. It worked!

So let’s stop apologizing and stress what went well, how much better prepared many organizations are now, and how we will face such problems in the future with renewed confidence.

Early in the pandemic planning we developed the seven Ps of pandemic planning to catch people’s attention and to make what needed to be done easy to understand. Looking at the approach now, it still works perfectly for business continuity (BC) in the wider sense. That is where BC has become stronger because of H1N1. Even if an organization only created a pandemic plan and did no more, then they will at least have plans to cope with minimum numbers of staff, IT plans and incident plans, which could be used in a BC incident.

Here is a brief summary of the seven Ps for those who have not seen it before. Every time you see the word Pandemic just change it in your mind for business continuity incident to see how far we have come if this approach was followed:

1. People

It is critical that you are able to respond quickly to staffing issues which will arise out of a pandemic. You are likely to have too few staff and there will be fear, uncertainty and doubt. Your organization will be judged by your staff and your clients on how you respond to those challenges.

This will be a difficult time. You will need the co-operation, support, and good-will of your people to get through it. Make sure your pandemic plan prepares the organisation, but make sure it also prepares your people. You need to consider cross-training, succession planning, and prioritization of tasks, and if you have them, involving the unions in your people preparations.

2. Policies

Many organizations spend a great deal of time examining their HR policies, and while there may be a need for such a review, fundamentally the best thing to use is the policies you already have. You will have sickness/absence policies in place already, and they should be able to meet most of your requirements. Remember, pandemic flu is no different from any other illness, so treat it as such.

What if you doubt whether someone who has called in sick has the flu or not? My advice is to accept their word initially. Either they have the flu, in which case there is no issue, or they are trying to trick you. If they are, they may then catch the flu later and since you can’t get the same strain twice you have clear grounds for a disciplinary interview!

If you have a company doctor or medic and are suspicious you could organize a telephone interview with your medical person. What I would not suggest is a home visit just in case their illness is genuine.

3. Priorities

From your BIA information you should have a clear view of the priorities in your organisation. This will apply regardless of the event which is causing your problems. The pandemic affects your people, not your machines. We’ll cover this in detail in a future article.

4. Places

Many organizations are concerned about what to do if staff refuse to travel to work in case they catch the flu. Again, policies should already cover this, but fundamentally it is the employee’s responsibility to get to work (unless you provide transportation), and therefore a “no show” should be treated as an unauthorized absence. If there is a widespread shortage of public transport; you may need to be a little more lenient.

Many organizations have as a key part of their plan the intention to have staff work from home. This is a sensible and effective approach, but there are two key areas you should examine.

First, at a technical level, do you have enough licenses for the number of remote logins you may now need, and does your infrastructure have the capacity to cope? For many firms this has proven to be a stumbling block, so make sure you check this out.

Second, if someone works from home then in many countries they will be covered by the relevant health and safety legislation. For example in the UK you would need to carry out an assessment of their work area (they can do this themselves), and you may be required to provide the necessary equipment such as a chair or monitor stand to comply with legislation.

One suggestion is to discuss with your HR department whether someone is designated as working from home or working remotely. A subtle difference, but one well worth examining!

5. Payments

Should you pay key workers extra to come to work during a pandemic? Be very careful of this. If you incentivise someone to come to work, and they subsequently become ill there may be an argument that you were at fault and may face a liability claim.

6. Publicity

You need to publicize to your staff, your customers, and your key suppliers how you will operate during the high impact phase of the flu pandemic.

7. Proof

No plan can be considered to be good until it has been proven to work. Your pandemic plan is no different. What assumptions have you made in creating it? Does your organization have sufficient licences and access bandwidth in place to allow many more staff than normal to work from different places? Test it, prove it, and then you can be confident that you are as prepared for the unexpected as you can reasonably be.

So there we have it. Probably the largest threat ever to the BC community was managed successfully overall, many lessons have been learned, much good work done, and a large number of organizations are stronger and better prepared than they ever have been.

So do those of us in the BC community have anything to apologize for? No! Let’s celebrate our success and build on it to create the level of resilience all organizations need.

David Hutcheson, MBCI, was one of the founding directors of Perth-based Glen Abbot Ltd., one of the leading business continuity and pandemic planning companies in the UK. Hutcheson is the only BCI-certified trainer on pandemic planning in Europe and has been a regular media commentator since the recent outbreak of H1N1 and issues a regular pandemic briefing with a worldwide circulation. Hutcheson provides twice-weekly briefings on pandemics at www.glenabbot.co.uk. Hutcheson is chair of the Institute of Directors in Tayside, a board member of the IoD Scotland, and serves on the government’s public procurement committee. Hutcheson can be contacted by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..