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All we need to know we learned in Grade School or at the Movies 

As a child, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I remember practicing for disaster situations. In grade school, we drilled on a regular basis, whether for a tornado or a nuclear attack. The alarm would sound we would head to the interior hallways and showers to take cover. We sat on the floor with legs crossed and hands locked over our heads until we got an all-clear signal. 

While I’m not sure sitting in the shower with my hands over my head would have protected me from a nuclear attack, we did have a plan. And, we all knew what to do. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise awareness of the need for businesses and nonprofit organizations to have business continuity planning models in place. 

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), between 40% and 60% of small businesses and nonprofits that do not adequately plan fail within three years after a major disaster, and some never reopen. 

Can you plan for a disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic?

Probably not totally, but many of us could have better prepared for the shelter in place orders. Continuity planning is forecasting possible risks and threats. All we need to do is look to the movie industry for what could be.  

“Contagion,” a 2011 movie about a pandemic with potentially deadly similarities to the recent COVID-19, is only one example others that have predicted similar scenarios include “Outbreak,” “I Am Legend,” “The Omega Man,” “World War Z” and “Pandemic.”  

These doomsday movies provide us valuable insight and a glimpse into what is possible that we can add to our list of risks and threats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts the second wave of COVID-19 is likely to occur in the fall. Future business continuity planning must include worst-case threats that might impact your organization, including planning for another pandemic. 

So, what does it mean to “be prepared”?  future  

In 1907, Baden-Powell, an English soldier who devised the Boy Scout motto, wrote that to Be Prepared means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” 

These words could not ring truer today. So, it is time to “Stop, Drop and Roll,” another thing we learned in grade school, and get our plans in place. 

Four steps to reviewing and drafting a new plan: 

Step One: Planning — What the last 70-days has taught us is that it involves key stakeholders from all across the organization for effective crisis management: 

  • Leadership and Department Managers
  • Human Resources
  • Legal
  • Finance 
  • IT 

Step Two: Risk Assessment — Most businesses have some type of disaster plan in place but probably only included planning for significant destruction of property with defined durations of disruption. The server goes down; within X hours, you switch to your collocation back-up. Many did not account for the immediate need to take the majority of the workforce into a remote working environment. Looking forward, watch lots of doomsday movies and consider these items for starters: 

  • Cross-training for all positions
  • Remote working environment needs
    • Hardware
    • Software
    • Access to servers and data
    • Meeting platforms and bandwidth
    • Time tracking
    • Virtual project management
  • Team communication
    • Call trees and emergency procedures in place
    • Ability to check-in with staff weekly, daily, hourly
    • Program/product review, proofing routing, approvals, etc.
    • Money management
  • Client/Public communication
    • Notification platforms
    • Tiered plans for communication
    • PR team and plan
  • HR Issues
    • What if everyone is sick?
    • How do you protect your essential workforce?
    • How are HR issues communicated?
  • Workplace re-entry 

Step Three: Preparedness — What the “stay-at-home” order taught us was the need to have a documented business continuity plan that is easily accessible to all employees. Additionally, like back in grade school, the need to practice said plan. Ensure you have identified: 

  • Specific roles and responsibilities
  • Timelines for implementation
  • Training drills 

Step Four: Response Analysis — Leaders should perform a COVID-19 postmortem evaluation to understand what: 

  • What went right?
  • How weren’t they prepared?
  • What could have been different?
  • What COVID-19 changes will affect the way they do business moving forward? 

To say the “last 70 days have been trying” is the biggest understatement anyone can make. And to think we can prepare for “anything” is also probably not likely. But, like in grade school, if you have a plan and practice the plan, you will be much closer to everyone knowing what to do in an emergency. 

Jack Welch, said it best “an organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” 

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