Planning for the Worst: Business Continuity Plans During a Pandemic

The past months saw the world dealing with another pandemic in the form of COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus spreading across nations. As of this writing, COVID-19 has affected millions of individuals globally and has paralyzed day-to-day operations as the biggest cities around the world declared lockdowns.

While scientists are yet to learn more about this new pandemic, businesses, on the other hand, can rely on the lessons learned from previous pandemics. As with the outbreaks of H1N1 and H5N1 avian influenza, businesses must reinforce, if not improve, their current business continuity plans (BCP) to weather the tide and prevent the worst from happening.

Why pandemics are different

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic, which is defined as an extended medical event with multiple occurrences of an outbreak in the same area lasting between six and eight weeks, if not more. The term, as WHO declared, is not something to use lightly, as it can cause unreasonable fear if misused.

For businesses, a pandemic is different from other illnesses, as it could come in waves throughout the year. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimate that as much as 40 percent of their workforce might be affected by a pandemic for a variety of reasons. It could be due to employees contracting the illness or caring for their sick family members.

Both employee presenteeism and absenteeism pose a challenge for organizations. Sick employees reporting to work may affect a significant portion of the workforce, while employees begging off work may affect productivity. To ensure that the effects of a pandemic to businesses will be mitigated, ensuring a health-focused business continuity plan is necessary and essential.

Elements of a business continuity plan

To put it simply, a BCP ensures that current business processes will remain operational during a time of crisis, such as a pandemic.

Crafting a solid plan usually involves the identification of five vital elements:

  • Scope
  • Key business areas
  • Critical function
  • Dependencies between various business areas and functions
  • Acceptable downtime for each critical functions


Once these elements have been identified, organizations can then create a plan to maintain their operations.

Business impact analyses and disaster recovery are simply parts of an all-encompassing BCP. While the business impact analysis identifies the quantifiable impact of sudden losses from business functions, the disaster recovery plan focuses on ways to restore operations after a crisis.

In the case of a pandemic, executing a BCP doesn’t have to be costly and expensive. It simply needs to outline roles and define channels of communication to ensure the continuity of operations. 

This also means educating the workforce on steps to take moving forward. Organizations that have weathered a previous pandemic have even ensured continuous information dissemination through online means. Properly educating the workforce on the next steps is an essential part of a BCP: not only can an organization continue their operation, but they can also do their part in minimizing the chances of further spreading a pandemic.

During times like this, knowledge and information are crucial, especially for organizations. A clear and concise BCP can help companies find a way through crises like a pandemic.


Business continuity plans for pandemics”, Safety and Health Magazine

How to create an effective business continuity plan”, CIO

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