Infectious Diseases: The Threat to Your Business and Community

By |2022-05-07T19:29:37+00:00January 31st, 2020|1 Comment

The Wuhan Coronavirus continues to spread across the globe. As of January 27, 2020 5:00 AM Pacific Time, there are over 2,804 cases in ten countries and 81 deaths (all in China). Over 50 million people are being quarantined in China. Even though your company risk is likely low, I am hoping your crisis management process has been activated. This is a short list of actions you need to be working on or have completed:

  1. Conduct an Incident Assessment Team meeting
  2. Develop a SitStat report and provide to your crisis management team – plan on regular updates – perhaps daily
  3. Brief your executives
  4. Develop communications to all key stakeholders. Deploy those comms to your employees now and others as necessary
  5. Made decisions on travel to China and return to work from China (should they come back into the office)
  6. Do your decisions on travel affect compensation? Make those HR decisions now.
  7. Look at your BCPs for supply chain disruption concerns 
  8. What about your third-party vendors and key relationships – are they at risk?
  9. Assess meeting calendars – for example, do you want your Chinese colleagues coming to your office for the annual meeting?
  10. Check your PPE supplies – masks, hand sanitizer
  11. Revisit that 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 you 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 China turns into a deadly pandemic strain.

Get started now!

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About the Author:

Regina Phelps is an internationally recognized thought leader and expert in crisis management, pandemic and continuity planning, and exercise design.  She is the founder of EMS Solutions Inc. (EMSS), headquartered in San Francisco, CA. Since 1982, EMSS has provided consultation and speaking services to clients on five continents.

Ms. Phelps is a 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 ability to break complex topics into easily digestible and understandable nuggets.

She is the author of four books, all available on Amazon:

Crisis Management: How to Develop a Powerful Program
Cyberbreach: What if 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.

She can be reached at [email protected] or

One Comment

  1. January 27, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    Nicely laid out with all the pertinent details.

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