The Pandemic Scramble

Do you remember in moves when someone yelled, “fire” or “bomb”?  As soon as it was heard there was nothing but panic spreading throughout crowds.  Suddenly the lead characters had to know what to do to keep the movie plot moving forward.  But in real life it’s not that simple.  What if an organization, who has ignored pandemic preparedness suddenly finds itself with confirmed cases of H1N1 / H5N1 at one – or more – of it’s facilities?  What then?

Unlike the movies where things are scripted for the characters and the best possible ending is in store for the viewer, real life just doesn’t operate the same way.  An organization that hasn’t prepared for a disaster, including a pandemic, has lost discussion time and now must act immediately.  Sitting around a board table to decide what to do and trying to develop plans is not going to work.  Time is of the essence.  While they sit debating actions that can and cannot be taken, more people may become ill and contracting the virus from others.  And this includes executives themselves.  No person is immune to colds, flues and viruses and this includes decision makers who sometimes assume they are always available during a disaster or crisis situation.  

Ignoring pandemic planning, or any sort of disaster response planning for that matter, is playing with fire; you’re going to get burned.  Management and staff of all levels of experience and authority are suddenly required to implement activities they aren’t even aware of  and that probably haven’t been validated through testing or exercising, let alone reviewed.  Policies are developed up on the spot and can cost organizations money if they aren’t thought through appropriately. 

A simple example could be deciding if a company will continue to pay people while they’re sick.  This may be a fine policy for a 2-week period but can an organization do that for a month or more?  Possibly not.  It might be better to pay the sick employee for 10 days and then begin to have them use their vacation time.  Either way, every corporation will implement what is best for it but without something documented ahead of a disaster, the wrong decisions could be made.  Can you imagine what would happen if an company sent people home because the building was quarantined and in the same breath told employees they aren’t going to be paid because they have to pay for cleaning?  Yikes!!  I wouldn’t want to be part of that organization.

While debate continues in the boardroom, employees may become panicked and not want to be in the building for fear of getting sick.  When a proactive communication and a policy and procedures could have averted any sort of panic.  Fear will set in and anger will surely follow.  Anger directed at a corporation for not preparing itself.  If an employee is angry with their employer for potentially exposing them to any pandemic virus, there’s always the risk that they will talk to others and that negativity will spread.   Think of those who rant on social networking sites; this can happen with employees who post not-so-friendly comments about their employer.   It could even spread to the media who will then be knocking on a corporation’s door asking why you don’t have a plan.  Like the StoneRoad website states, “The hardest thing about planning for a disaster, is explaining why you didn’t”.

If you’re in an organization that doesn’t have a pandemic response plan then just imagine what would happen if someone yelled out “I’m sick!” and see what happens.  It could be a movie script without a happy ending.

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