The growth and spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection around the world has everyone on edge. Businesses, schools, and healthcare institutions are all breaking out their pandemic plans from H1N1 in 2009 or, if they didn’t have guidance in place, they are looking to establish continuity or strategic plans in case COVID-19 threatens to impact their operations.
According to news report, COVID-19 is spreading at a fast rate; and as more testing kits become available, there will be many more confirmed cases of the virus around the world. Those kits will also provide a much better epidemiological picture of where COVID-19 is spreading and how it is being transmitted. With measures being taken to slow its spread, hopefully, we will see the impact lessened and the threat thwarted, but, in the meantime, it is important to plan for the worst.
Maybe you’re thinking COVID-19 is a medical issue, not a fire incident or emergency response concern, so how can NFPA help us?
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission), recognized NFPA 1600 Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management as our National Preparedness Standard. Widely used by public, not-for-profit, nongovernmental, and private entities on a local, regional, national, and global basis, NFPA 1600 has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a voluntary consensus standard for emergency preparedness. The standard is available on the NFPA website for free viewing, and offers key information for entities who want to conduct a risk assessment, business impact analysis, capabilities and needs assessments, and develop emergency and recovery plans. Healthcare decision-makers may also find NFPA 99 Health Care Facilities Code helpful; the document provides critical safety information and requirements for isolation spaces, emergency planning, IT and data infrastructure, and more.
So, what can you do today to better prepare and revise your plans?
First thing is to identify the event that you are planning for. Chapter 5 of NFPA 1600 states, “Crisis management planning shall address an event, or series of events, that severely impacts or has the potential to severely impact an entity's operations, reputation, market share, ability to do business, or relationships with key stakeholders.” In the case of COVID-19 that is easy to identify. What’s harder to put a finger on is the vulnerability of people, property, operations, the environment, the entity, and the supply chain operations.
Second is to conduct a business impact analysis. A key facet of this deep dive is evaluating the following:
- Single-source and sole-source suppliers
- Single points of failure
- Potential qualitative and quantitative impacts from a disruption
Third is to assess your resource needs. Here are some things to consider:
- What do you have in place currently to mitigate potential disruptions?
- What are the things you must do to maintain services, at a minimum?
- What are your technological capabilities and how can they be leveraged to minimize impact?
- What are aspects of your business or services that can be disrupted in order to re-direct assets to necessary activities?
Once you have a good picture of the threat, your capabilities, and what you need to continue operations, you can realistically plan. Businesses and communities will be well-served if they regard the coronavirus as an opportunity for self-evaluation and to either update or create plans that will be needed if the virus continues to spread. NFPA 1600 is a valuable tool for those who are focused on continuity of operations, but bear in mind that planning cannot and should not be done in a vacuum. Establish a planning team, and invite your stakeholders, vendors, and emergency partners to participate in the planning process, where appropriate. Evaluate your products or services, and prioritize the use and purchase of them. For a business, an example of prioritization might entail decreasing marketing efforts so that fulfillment capabilities can be increased. For a school, it may entail reducing or cancelling after school events and large gatherings, such as assemblies. Another thing to consider is your physical operations. Ask questions about what can be done remotely.
Healthcare gets a little trickier because facilities service patients; but do all operational aspects require workers to be physically present, perhaps unnecessarily putting them and their loved ones at risk? Or can you identify the biggest priorities? Do you know what your surge capacity is? How many additional PPE supplies can you store? What contracts do you have in place to acquire more supplies? Are you in touch with the local health department and discussing plans for any surges, how to get support or how to offer support? Do you have MOUs with similar facilities in case your physical operations are affected? Now is the time to ask these questions, and more, and to make the necessary connections.
As an all-hazards information and knowledge leader, NFPA has worked to help entities and communities address emergencies for a very long time. As you review or develop necessary plans, consult NFPA 99, NFPA 1600, and the NFPA 1600 handbook.You may also want to consult the NFPA Emergency Preparedness Checklist or contact NFPA to learn more about a facility planning workshop that walks parties through the process of developing emergency plans. And, as always, if you have questions or need guidance on how to access or use codes and standards - we are here to help.
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