Leveraging Existing Response Plans to Tackle COVID-19

June 18, 2020 – While the world continues to face the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, corporate, academic and government leaders are examining the long-range questions of “What’s next?” and “How do we respond?” If your organization has yet to have a pandemic response and recovery plan in place, it may be time to take what is in place as a cyberattack or natural disaster response and recovery plan and leverage it as a foundation upon which to build a pandemic response and recovery plan, according to a new report authored by Jay Millen, Matt Comyns and Courtney Day at Caldwell.

“Many of the elements that are essential to returning to normal operations – understanding the degree of impact, inventorying capability to respond and recover, and executing recovery actions – may be present in your existing response and recovery plans,” the report said. “While they may require significant modification in some cases, they can offer a material head start on getting back to business as we progress through the downward curve to zero and potential re-emergence of the virus in six to 18 months.”

History as a Guide

Caldwell pointed to the last global pandemic of this scale which occurred with the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. An estimated one third of the world population was infected with the virus, resulting in at least 50 million deaths worldwide. There were three different waves of illness during the pandemic, starting in March 1918 and subsiding by summer of 1919. The spread was tracked specifically to ocean-going freight and WWI troop carriers traveling to continental Europe, South America and the U.S. The pandemic peaked in the U.S. during the second wave in late 1918 – roughly six months after the initial occurrence. This highly fatal second wave was responsible for the majority of U.S. deaths attributed to the pandemic.

With history as a guide, the Caldwell report said that “we must consider preparedness for a second and possibly third wave of the utmost importance. Given the 1918-19 spread, the time for leaders to prepare for the possibility of a similar recurrence with COVID-19 is now. Establishing a critical staffing and supply plan, emergency communications and operations center structure, and ramp- down/ramp-up plans will be essential to blunting the impact of additional waves. Again, taking the cyberattack or natural disaster response and recovery plan as a foundation for pandemic planning is critical.”

“Specific to pandemic response, organizations need to be thoughtful about repurposing staff, logistics, and manufacturing capabilities to critical needs in fighting the war on COVID-19,” the Caldwell report said. “How we will feed, provision, and clothe front line healthcare workers will be the first level of support that all organizations need to consider. Fulfilling the needs of the general population at the second level will also be critical should additional waves become a reality. Isolation and social-distancing requirements, along with the use of enhanced personal protective equipment, may become the norm, and being prepared for such a scenario requires thoughtful planning today. The third level will be maintaining critical infrastructure with manufacturing, supply chain, and food production essential to all societies.”

“The magnitude of the impact on the workforce, dependents, and families is of a scale not seen since WWII, and reflecting on the planning and execution required for national and global mobilization is a critical part of our preparedness,” the report also said.

Staying the Course

Caldwell also said that leaders must consider the holistic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their leadership teams, their workforce and their families when reviewing the current situation and future scenarios. Identifying current leaders and selecting new leaders who are most effective in dealing with uncertainty and complexity is a critical factor in organizational resilience moving forward.

“There are a number of low-cost assessment tools available online and remotely that CEOs, board chairs and leaders across the spectrum should consider deploying broadly now instead of solely during the hiring process,” the report said. “As organizations morph and change, this capability will be paramount in recovering and growing the business, organizational mission, or capability as we forge ahead.”

The importance of being prepared and understanding the leadership capabilities of your team under stress cannot be overstated. “The organization will prosper or flounder in times of crisis based on its leadership team’s ability to communicate in a positive and transparent manner, plan thoughtfully and with contingencies, and lead by example by rolling up their sleeves in challenging times,” the Caldwell report concluded. “Plan for the recovery now, the recurrence that will potentially occur, and the resilience required to survive the next as yet unwritten chapter in our economic, social and personal histories.”

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