Maxwell Stephens

Be prepared: Coronavirus outbreak highlights the need for effective disaster management.

The recent emergence of Coronavirus in China, which has since been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO), highlights the need for organisations to have comprehensive disaster and emergency planning in place. This is something that more often than not falls within the remit of facilities professionals; yet it is vital that you should not wait until something like the coronavirus outbreak to ask yourselves whether you are fully prepared to handle an emergency. 

Question time…


Whilst emergency preparation should stem from the very top level of an organisation, developing an effective plan requires input from all areas of the business. Consider the example of an influenza pandemic and the potential impact this would have on employee numbers. You would need to gather as much information as possible about how significantly reduced workforce could affect the business. This could start with getting the answers to a range of very important questions, such as:


· What systems are business-critical and what is the minimum number of staff needed to support their operation?


· Which members of staff are currently trained to operate critical systems and what specific skills do they have which make them qualified?


· Which system operations can be managed remotely? Can other systems be developed/upgraded to provide remote operation and what would be the costs incurred?


· What would happen if any premises had to be closed due to quarantine or staff shortages?


· What supplies are needed to perform business-critical operations?


· Which employees perform tasks that cannot be done remotely and where are they located?


These are just a few examples of the kind of questions you need to answer in order to form the basis of your emergency planning, and may vary considerably depending on what you are planning for. 


The best plans account for every eventuality, no matter how unlikely.

Who are you relying on?


If there’s one thing that’s going to be affected by an emergency, it’s people. It is highly likely that the organisation does not run completely autonomously, and often relies on a range of relationships with third party vendors and contractors to operate. A thorough process of reviewing and clarifying these contractual relationships is a vital part of any disaster plans. The first part of this review should be to rank these external vendors by priority of how integral they are to business operations. Which ones are vital to the running of the organisation and which ones could you do without for a few months if needed?


Once you have a better grasp of this, you need to carry out all the appropriate due diligence. You need to ensure they have the plans and procedures in place to provide their contracted services in the event of an emergency.

Pay attention to the details.


Although the overarching strategic approach to emergency management is important, it’s equally, if not more important, to consider the on-the-ground actions required no matter how minor. Obviously the approach to disaster  management will vary wildly depending on the nature of the emergency, yet establishing the proper protocols and procedures is vital irrespective of what’s happening. Again if we use a potential Coronavirus pandemic as an example, janitorial protocols would become a key consideration, even down to the details of how often elevator buttons are sterilised.


Good disaster management is like a game of chess, you need to think many moves ahead. You need to plan for every eventuality, you need to account for everything going wrong, and you need to have every contingency in place. Chances are it’s not going to happen, but when it comes to disaster planning, it pays to be pessimistic!