How Resilient is Your Organisation to a Pandemic?

The start of 2020 has so far been sadly catastrophic – extreme weather and the coronavirus (COVID-19) have caused unprecedented business disruption.

Most organisations are experiencing disruption to their supply chain which is having a knock-on effect on their ability to fulfil customer orders.  As a consequence of recent events, many organisations are shifting their disaster planning away from one of “business continuity” to one of “operational resilience”, and focusing instead on their capacity to prepare for such disruptive events in an effort to prevent a business disaster.

What is a Business Disaster?

A business disaster has been described as being “Any unwanted significant incident that threatens personnel, buildings and/or the operational effectiveness of an organisation, which requires special measures to be taken to restore the business back to normal.” (Source: Home Office – How Resilient is your Business to a Disaster).

When defining “any unwanted significant incident”, the following headings provide baseline scenarios for consideration:

  • Human error
  • Natural causes
  • Intentional causes

COVID-19 would therefore be classified under all three baseline scenarios because:

  • Employees, in the knowledge that such a situation exists, ignore advice and visit areas which could put them and others at risk
  • The virus is now in the open and is being transferred from person to person
  • Without a “Pandemic Strategy & Plan” the organisation will react as and when

Pandemic Planning

The Pandemic Plan should therefore take a Strategic and Operational direction, with a number of scenarios taken into consideration, such as that scenario that:

  • Employees “Mental Health” may be affected
  • Employees may need to self-isolate and/or be admitted to Specialist Centres
  • Schools may need to close to limit transmission risks which may mean that Employees that are Parents or Carers may need to remain at home to look after family members
  • Employees may have partners who need to self-isolate
  • Travel disruptions or restrictions may impact movements to key operational locations
  • Supply chains could be impacted or fail, resulting in limited delivery of products and services
  • Financial Markets could be impacted, causing movement of the organisation’s stock/price position
  • Lack of preparedness may not provide enough assurance to employees of a safe working environment

For every one of the realistic scenarios listed above, and the list is not exhaustive, organisations need to understand the impacts that will occur from each one – specifically what special measures are needed to restore the organisation back to a normal state and help mitigate against:

  • Loss of operating capacity
  • Loss of capital or profits
  • Loss of market share
  • Loss of credibility and /or brand, image and reputation; and
  • Impact on regulatory compliance with legislation or codes of practice

How then can an Organisation establish a Pandemic Plan for COVID-19?

A key factor in mitigating the potential impact from COVID-19 is to break the Pandemic Plan down into mission critical elements, those that are necessary to deliver the organisations products and services, whilst considering those areas where there is a need for human interaction with identified end-to-end processes and procedures.

It can be argued therefore, that our focus for operational resilience should be one that accepts the fact that products and services, and the supporting processes and procedures, will at some time fail, and therefore accept that there is a need to: “Resist and tolerate failure, and recover critical operational elements within a business acceptable time scale by planning and design” (Source: Survive! The Business Continuity Group – Communications Special Interest Group)

By taking such an approach for Pandemic Planning, any investment in the planning and design of internal and external resilience should provide a return for day-to-day operations, and therefore support the organisation in their aim to prevent, adapt, respond to, recover and learn from operational disruptions.

What Strategic Approach might you consider, and when, for your Pandemic Plan?

One approach that organisations might consider in building a Pandemic Plan could involve the use of our “7Rs” methodology:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Readiness
  3. Resources
  4. Response
  5. Recovery
  6. Resumption
  7. Review

This approach provides the basis for future development of an organisational approach to Operational Resilience.

Where are Most Organisations Today in Terms of their Pandemic Planning?

Most organisations want to believe that they are resilient to any type of business disaster. Most may have some third-party outsourced agreements in place, for which they believe that the risk has been transferred elsewhere for specific critical business operations, thereby extending their supply chain.

When considering in-house capacity arrangements, you may need to accept that business operations will continue to change, whether due to business transformation or process re-engineering, or through mergers & acquisitions, creating challenges with the establishment and/or management of up-to-date operational resilience capabilities.

Alongside this challenging business environment, it should also be remembered that customers, suppliers, manufacturers and maintainers should also have established their own Pandemic Plan, and if they have not then the organisation should be aware and be ready for any disruption.

When the remaining in-house capabilities are considered, due to ongoing business change the capacity for any organisation to manage the impact from a Pandemic will most likely end up being reduced.

Final Thoughts

Alongside such business challenges and changes, it should also be remembered that customers, suppliers, manufacturers and maintainers are also experiencing similar issues, thereby adding to any disruption.

If we then add the final components that can exist in organisational thinking – “it will all be right on the night”, often supported by its companion “denial” – then we need to become agile to the possibility of a business disaster and plan accordingly.

At Fortress Availability Services, we know that shareholders, board members and executive management require this agility, and as such would offer our support to assist your organisation with Pandemic Planning. To find out more information about our Business Continuity Advisory service visit our website –

About the Author

Steve Yates is an Organisational Resilience Associate Consultant. He has decades of experience in assisting public and private sector organisations become more organisationally and operationally resilient. Steve has been through two Pandemic situations whilst working on the construction, fitting-out and Games Time for London 2012 as the Head of Business Continuity & Crisis Management, having additional responsibility of leading the Pandemic Working Group (PWG) for both the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).

If you would like to find out more about our pandemic planning or business continuity advisory service, please contact us.

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