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5 Things Your Organization Needs to Do When Flu or Other Epidemic Strikes

By Michael Sher, Groupdolists:

Any smart organization needs to be prepared for the unexpected, especially when the flu or another contagious disease strikes. This year’s flu season, the worst in a decade, has already claimed the lives of 97 children and continues to spread worldwide at a fast clip.  This has undoubtedly led to widespread panic and anxiety, and the enterprise is no exception. If we’ve learned anything from this and other outbreaks, it’s that no person or organization is immune.

A great deal of time and effort goes into drafting a plan that details the best ways organizations can prepare, respond and coordinate their response team during emergency situations like disease outbreaks. With the right planning, knowledge and response tools, organizations can manage situations better and keep disruption to a minimum. The following emergency preparedness outline will serve as an excellent roadmap for managing an epidemic in your work environment.

These are the 5 most important things to do when flu or another illness strikes your company:

  1. Get your facts straight. When you hear that the flu or other fast-spreading illness has become a threat to the health and safety of your employees, make sure that you have the most up-to-date information and a reliable way to continuously monitor the situation. Check the CDC and WHO websites and sign up for their alerts to stay in the know. You will want to know if travel restrictions have been issued, especially if your organization has employees traveling on a global level. You should also monitor national and local media outlets, as well as social media, to keep on top of newly reported information, including total number of diagnosed cases, populations most at-risk and geographic spread. These are appropriate tasks for your COOP/business continuity head and/or your corporate communications or public information director.
  1. Get your chess pieces ready. If your organization needs to manage a flu epidemic or even worse, a pandemic, there will be a lot of moving parts. One of the most essential steps is to have a response team already in place, briefed (and well practiced) on COOP/business continuity plans and ready to react as soon as they’re notified. Just like each chess piece has a distinct role, make sure that your leadership has clearly assigned procedures and accountability. For example, your HR leader should be charged with looking at things like increased telecommuting arrangements or staggered shifts so that fewer employees are in the office together at the same time, or even employing social distancing measures. Your CIO should be ready to put technology strategies in place that could help your organization function despite employees’ inability to work together in the same room (e.g., video conferencing, teleconferencing, webcasts, social media). And your support team/incident leader can keep track of who called in sick, who is working from home while recovering and where each sick employee lives (particularly for organizations with global reach).
  2. Stay transparent. Clear, constant and transparent communication from response team leaders to employees is a must-do throughout the epidemic. Whether it’s communicating temporary or permanent policy changes, staffing shifts or operations decisions, managers need to make sure their employees are well-informed. Your COOP/business continuity head should send out an initial situation report and continue to review, modify and update it regularly until a final report is issued. Your HR leader should provide employees with guidance on working from home, sick leave, family leave and employee compensation to minimize any added confusion during an already chaotic time.
  3. Assess the risks. As the situation continues to unfold, it’s important to identify the biggest potential risks a flu outbreak poses. This means looking at the possible risks to your human resources – your employees, suppliers, vendors and partners – and figuring out how to best protect them.  Some organizations have implemented successful flu screening programs or incentivized employees to get vaccinated. Leadership must also evaluate the biggest risks for continuity of operations. For example, identifying teams that may need extra support in case of high employee absenteeism and making sure there’s a plan in place for handling high absenteeism can go a long way in minimizing disruption.
  4. Take stock of what you’ve learned. Once you’ve navigated through the situation, it’s important to reflect on the lessons you’ve learned through the process. Take the time to ask key leaders involved in the mitigation and responsiveness efforts what worked well and what could have been handled better. You might consider conducting a survey of employees to measure how well they feel you handled the situation as a company and use the findings to share best practices. Make sure you file any final incident reports and continue communicating to all employees about the status of any policies or rules that were added or changed during the epidemic. These steps will help ensure a smooth transition from emergency operations to normal operations.  

And remember, practice makes perfect. Don’t just wait until an outbreak occurs. Try being more proactive and less reactive.

Michael Sher is president and founder of Groupdolists, a cross-platform SaaS solution to help teams on the front-lines responsible for safeguarding employees, facilities and assets. He has been building tools for the emergency and incident management markets since 2001, when he co-founded Send Word Now in New York City right after 9/11.

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