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How to Prepare an H1N1 Continuity of Operations Plan in Case of a Pandemic Flu Outbreak

written by: Ginny Edwards•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 10/14/2010

What do you do if your staff suddenly comes down with H1N1 or some other new flu strain this year. Read more to find out why you may need business continuity of operations plan in case of a pandemic flu outbreak occurs in your office.

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    How H1N1 or Another Flu Can Affect Your Workforce?

    Thermometer Image- Courtesy of Open Clip Art Library Having the flu is never a pleasant experience, but it can take a toll on the workplace when several workers are infected or even if only one essential employee is out sick. H1N1, popularly known as the "swine flu," emerged in 2009 as a subtype of influenza A virus and was declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization in June 2009 in just a few short months after its detection.

    While businesses can take many precautions to prevent or reduce the spread of influenza, including H1N1, there remains the risk that enough employees may become infected to substantially affect a business's ongoing operation. A business can be caught off guard when the flu virus is novel, as was the case with H1N1, because pharmaceutical companies may take several months to develop, test, and dispense a vaccine that can protect the general public. In addition H1N1, unlike seasonal flu, affects a greater percentage of young adults who make up a larger percentage share of the workforce.

    Given the unpredictability surrounding the spread of the flu virus, entrepreneurs need to adopt the philosophy to hope for the best but plan for the worst. One way for entrepreneurs to plan for the worst is to prepare a pandemic flu COOP (continuity of operations) plan.

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    What is an H1N1 Flu Business COOP Plan?

    COOP plans or business continuity of operation plans have become very popular in the business environment and enable entrepreneurs to prepare alternative ways to maintain their production and services in the event that equipment or personnel are suddenly taken out of commission. Although every employee is important to the achievement of the business mission, there are certain key personnel that are necessary for the business's continuity of operations.

    These key employees represent strategically vital points in management and authority and underscore the essential functions that must be carried out. If these positions are left unattended, the business will not be able to meet customer needs or fulfill its essential obligations. This is why a comprehensive flu continuity of operations plan needs to contain a succession component in the event these key positions suddenly become vacant. The first step in devising an order of succession is by assessing the current organizational structure and answering these two questions:

    1. What does each function uniquely contribute to the organization’s mission?

    2. Can this function operate effectively, if this position was vacant?

    In determining the relative importance of people and functions, the COOP planning team needs to understand the demographics of their workforce and who may be at the greatest risk to contract the flu. Normally, the flu is highly contagious among all sectors of the workforce, although the elderly and persons with underlying medical conditions are generally considered to be at a higher risk of developing complications arising from the flu.

    However, in the case of H1N1, young adults and pregnant women were determined to be the populations at the most risk. The COOP planning team also needs to examine the peaks and troughs of the flu in their region and determine the impact on the business, particularly if the business is seasonally sensitive. In developing the succession component, the skill-sets for the incumbent and successor should be matched as closely as possible.

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    Drafting an H1N1 COOP Business Plan in Case of a Pandemic

    The main components of an H1N1 Business Continuity of Operations Plan should include:

    1. Identify key functions of each employee.
    2. Determine a timeframe for how long those key functions can be shut down without serious risk to not only meeting the obligations of the business but also maintaining its reputation for reliability.
    3. Categorize the essential functions by timeframe (24 hours or less, two to three days, 1 week, more than 1 week). The average length of recovery from the flu is approximately one week, so functions categorized under one week must be addressed.
    4. Analyze the workforce to identify successors to assume essential functions.
    5. Determine cross-training needs and consider training across department lines in case the flu virus takes down an entire department.
    6. For small businesses, explore temporary employment services to utilize contingent workers.
    7. Publish the plan and obtain feedback from all employees.
    8. Set dates to run a simulation flu outbreak exercise.
    9. Obtain certification for the COOP plan or additional training as needed from outside consultants such as the Institute for Business Continuity Training.

    With a pandemic flu (H1N1) business continuity plan in place, entrepreneurs can at least keep their businesses healthy.