Your Plandemic – The Plan to Plan Plan

Now that the Ebola virus has made its way to the United States and we enter the traditional US Flu season, companies are beginning to revisit and/or develop Pandemic Plans to address this scare.  But, Pandemic Planning is a little bit different than your standard business continuity plan development process.  I have often chastised organizations for saying they have business continuity or disaster recovery “plans” when all they really have are plans to create plans, but, in the case of pandemic planning, I think, that is actually the right approach to take.

The reason why it is so important to have well developed and relatively detailed business continuity plans, strategies and solutions in place today is that most disasters occur without warning and do not provide the luxury of time to figure out what to do after the incident occurs.  Pandemics represent an evolving threat that comes in various shapes and sizes and does afford us a luxury (if that word really applies here) to construct a response plan based on the particular pandemic that poses the threat.

The “Pandemic Influenza Risk Management / WHO Interim Guidance” published by the World Health Organization in 2013 (click here to read this document) states:

“Member States had prepared for a pandemic of high severity and appeared unable to adapt their national and subnational responses adequately to a more moderate event.”

And recommends,

“a risk-based approach to pandemic influenza risk management and encourages Member States to develop flexible plans, based on national risk assessment, taking account of the global risk assessment”

I think this applies to individual company plans, as well.  The Pandemic Plans that now sit on the shelves of most companies today include the best practices recommended for addressing the Avian Flu or Swine Flu or H1N1 – whichever scare was prevalent at the time they wrote their plan.  Although these plans may still contain lots of terrific practices for any epidemic or pandemic, it will probably need to be adjusted to address whatever pandemic actually occurs in their area.  It is for this reason that I believe the best approach to pandemic planning is to establish an environment in which you “plan to plan” for whatever pandemic might present itself.

The recommended, new WHO Pandemic Model has been simplified to include only 4 Pandemic Phases:

“Interpandemic phase: This is the period between influenza pandemics.

Alert phase: This is the phase when influenza caused by a new subtype has been identified in humans. Increased vigilance and careful risk assessment, at local, national and global levels, are characteristic of this phase. If the risk assessments indicate that the new virus is not developing into a pandemic strain, a de-escalation of activities towards those in the interpandemic phase may occur.

Pandemic phase: This is the period of global spread of human influenza caused by a new subtype. Movement between the interpandemic, alert and pandemic phases may occur quickly or gradually as indicated by the global risk assessment, principally based on virological, epidemiological and clinical data.

Transition phase: As the assessed global risk reduces, de-escalation of global actions may occur, and reduction in response activities or movement towards recovery actions by countries may be appropriate, according to their own risk assessments.”

I recommend that your Pandemic Program establish actions to take during each of these phases.

During the Interpandemic Phase, your Business Continuity Department (or Human Resources or Health Department, perhaps) should monitor WHO, CDC and local Health Agencies tracking of developing health risks and threats.

Should a situation occur where the Pandemic Level is raised to the Alert Phase, you should begin to develop more specific Prevention, Response and Contention strategies based on the health organization’s recommendations for the particular health risk that causes the alert.  You will likely be able to leverage many of the solutions developed in your previous pandemic plan, but your final plan will be geared towards this particular threat.

Should this threat result in either a regional epidemic or world-wide pandemic, you then put that plan into action.

Once the threat has been normalized and we enter the Transition Phase, your course of action should be to remain poised for a second wave of this particular pandemic while also documenting lessons learned to be considered should another threat develop.  You then “shelve” this particular plan and return to your tracking and monitoring position in the Interpandemic phase.

So, in effect, your Pandemic Program provides the basis for you to wait for a threat to develop and then jump into action developing the “plan” for this particular threat – in other words, you plan to plan.

Now, of course, there is also that part of the plan in which you must consider continuity of operations given that your work force is depleted or immobilized and/or given that key senior management have been impacted (ill or even died).  This is where you would deploy contingencies you have in place for such impacts.  (See the “Scenario Based vs Impact Based Planning” blog for more discussion on contingency planning.)

This approach will not work for other common business interruption risks and threats, but, I think, is the appropriate approach for addressing Pandemic Planning.

Meanwhile, promote day-to-day health and sanitation practices in your work environment – always a good way to combat any seasonal flu or more serious health risks.

Good luck, and stay healthy.

Thank you for your input.