Infectious Diseases: The Threat to your Business and Community

Regina Phelps

The Great Pandemic of 1918 lives in the history books as the “Great Destroyer,” killing over 50 – 100 million people around the world and forever changing communities and the people in them. Since then, we have had global pandemics but for the most part, they have been mild.

The world is facing a new threat – the novel Wuhan Coronavirus. As of January 24, At least 26 deaths have been confirmed in China, two of them outside of Hubei province. At least 881 people have been infected. This is hopefully making you dig out your Pandemic Plan. What kind of shape is it in? Probably pretty poor and not touched since the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

I invite you to think about how this plan could be more “all-purpose” rather than an “only in a blue moon” type of plan. All Planners are aware of the need for a Pandemic Plan but there is a more helpful way to view this important document – Create an Infectious Disease & Pandemic Guide. There are two major reasons for converting a pandemic plan into a combination infectious disease AND pandemic plan. A combination plan:
  • Can emphasize that diseases, by their very nature, are local and can impact your business/region.
  • Can highlight that common diseases can severely impact your business and are far more likely to happen. A disease doesn’t have to be something “unusual” to cause problems running your organization.
First, let’s make sure we are all speaking the same language. A few definitions:
  • Infectious diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi; the diseases can be spread, directly or indirectly, from one person to another.
  • Pandemic: A disease outbreak occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
  • Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases of animals that can cause disease when transmitted to humans.
In recent times we have had major outbreaks of these common illnesses in communities, schools and businesses.
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Whooping cough
  • Flu
  • Drug-resistant TB
This is in addition to the more exotic diseases such as:
  • SARS
  • Ebola
  • MERS
  • Zika virus
Disease plans are much different than a business continuity or crisis management plan. Why? These plans should be written without specifics about what should be done for each possible illness. This is because diseases can shift and change; what works or is done today may not be appropriate when an outbreak occurs. Medical treatments and preventive measures change based on the disease morphing. And lastly and perhaps more importantly, you do not control your destiny or your responses in a serious disease outbreak. The local Department of Public Health is the controlling authority. They have the ability to invoke Public Health Law, which allows them to control your response and they can and will issue instructions, orders, and dictates (as necessary) based on the illness.

Plan Goals and Objectives

Here are some basic considerations to consider when developing or revamping your plan. What are the overall goals and objectives for the plan? The goals might be:
  • To indicate the action required to overcome or minimize an infectious disease incident
  • To delineate responsibilities and procedures to address an infectious disease incident.
Your plan objectives might be:
  • If possible, to eliminate the transmission of an infectious agent at the workplace, or, if elimination is not possible, reduce the transmission of the infectious agent.
  • Decrease illness among employees, contractors, and visitors.
  • Maintain mission-critical business activities.
  • Reduce the economic impact of an infectious disease outbreak.

Plan Components

What should expect to see in a good Infectious Disease & Pandemic Guide? Here are the highlights:
  • General Planning Assumptions
  • Pandemic Planning Scenarios including limited localized outbreak, regional and national or international
  • Pre-outbreak preparation and planning:
    • When there is no current risk.
  • Assessment:
    • If there is a threat detected.
  • Plan activation:
    • Local phased response activations based on impact and severity.
Lastly the plan should have appropriate Plan Appendices that cover:
  • Business continuity:
    • BIA assessment.
    • Employee categorization.
  • Facilities:
    • HVAC guidelines.
    • PPE.
  • Human Resources:
    • Employee education.
    • Monitoring.
    • Compensation and benefits.
    • Draft guidelines
  • Crisis Management Team:
    • Leadership continuity.
    • Virtual command centers.
  • Maintenance and janitorial:
    • Cleaning.
    • Isolation.
  • Respiratory Hygiene:
    • Policies.
    • Guidelines.
  • Safety and Security:
    • Visitors.
    • Lobby policies.
    • Emergency Response Team procedures.
  • Travel:
    • Draft Policies
Infectious diseases can break out at any time. In this day and age where vaccination levels are at an all-time low in some countries and regions, it is only a matter of time before an employee comes into your office advising you of their symptoms after returning from a trip abroad, or the local Health Department calls you to notify you that you have an employee in your call center with measles or the Avian flu in the China turns into a deadly pandemic strain.

Get started now!

The Author

Regina Phelps is an internationally recognized expert in the field of crisis management, continuity planning, pandemic and infectious disease plans and exercise design. She is the founder of EMS Solutions Inc, (EMSS) and since 1982, EMSS has provided consultation and speaking services to clients in five continents.

Ms. Phelps is frequent speaker at international continuity conferences and is consistently rated one of the top-rated speakers in her field. She is known for her approachable and entertaining speaking style and her ability to take complex topics and break them into easily digestible and understandable nuggets.

She is the author of four books and all are available on Amazon:
  • Crisis Management: How to Develop a Powerful Program
  • Cyberbreach: What is your defenses fail? Designing an exercise to map a ready strategy;
  • Emergency Management Exercises: From Response to Recovery
  • Emergency Management Exercises: From Response to Recovery Instructors Guide.
DRIE Toronto Digest - Vol 28 Issue 1 January 2020

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