Believe it or not, flu season is right around the corner. If you remember, the 2009 flu season caused quite a stir with the H1N1 pandemic sweeping its way across the world. In the end, H1N1 claimed the lives of over 18,000 people worldwide and affected people in more than 214 countries (WHO).
Businesses across the world – including hedge funds – enacted pandemic response plans in an effort to keep their day-to-day operations running smoothly and without major disruptions due to staffing issues. And while no one expects a repeat of 2009 this flu season (particularly since the H1N1 vaccine will be readily available from the start), it is still essential for funds to have pandemic response and business continuity plans in place in the event of any type of disaster.
We’ve outlined six key steps firms should take to ensure their businesses remain at peak performance during disastrous times:
Begin response procedures BEFORE a disaster strikes.
Organizational resiliency starts by strengthening your organization during normal business operations prior to a disaster such as a pandemic. It should not take a disaster to compel your firm to evaluate its business continuity and response processes. One should be in place long before disasters strike.
Identify who will serve as crisis leaders and be in charge of handling situational changes that may occur, including communication to other employees about response procedures and alternative site locations. Also, certify that all employees are cross-trained within the organization; if there is a staff shortage as a result of a pandemic, employees will need to fill additional roles and responsibilities. Non-critical employees may be able to take larger roles and assist during a pandemic response phase.
Develop disaster/pandemic procedures based on a variety of scenarios.
Be proactive. As part of the planning process, create a list of potential scenarios and define your firm’s response strategies. Impact scenarios should include both potential internal and external occurrences.
For instance, what is your response if access to your office building is restricted? How will you access your email, market data and portfolio management systems? Where will employees work and how will they communicate with colleagues and counterparties? Externally, how will you operate if your prime broker or fund administrator contacts are unavailable? Being prepared will ensure your business operations continue seamlessly and without interruption.
Thoroughly review and modify your business’ Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
An EAP provides assistance and access to counseling services for issues in and out of the workplace. In the event of a disaster, employees may wish to speak with a professional counselor to deal with any stress or negative emotions that have resulted from the event. If you cannot provide a physical counseling presence, provide a list of area clinics that offer comparable services. In advance, consider preparing educational materials that inform employees of the various stress indicators and reactions they may experience as a result of a disaster. If employees know that support is available prior to a disaster, it will mitigate panic and stress, and they will be better able to adapt to changes in their environment.
You should also inform employees about current sick leave and family support policies in the event that someone is forced to take an extended leave of absence.
Test alternate site and remote access capabilities.
If a crisis situation is directly affecting your physical workspace or your employees, you must be prepared to provide alternatives. You may choose to move business operations to an alternate site where employees can go without risk. An alternate site would make sense for crisis situations that are confined to specific areas, such as natural disasters, outages or other situations.
In a pandemic situation – particularly if you have had any outbreaks of illness amongst your employees – you may choose to allow employees to work remotely. If this is a viable alternative, ensure ahead of time that you have adequate capacity and infrastructure to support multiple virtual private networks (VPN) and remote access capabilities. Confirm the number of Citrix licenses you have available; if there are not enough to support your complete staff, you may need to consolidate responsibilities.
Review your business response plan and procedures with team members and leaders.
Develop communication notification and escalation procedures for response team leaders and assign internal notification tasks to each leader. Identify if there are external business partners who need to be notified as well (i.e. investors, service providers, etc.). Assign a primary and secondary spokesperson in case the public needs to be notified, and ensure the spokesperson(s) has training and experience dealing with the media. If your spokesperson does not have training, now is the time to arrange for crisis communications training.
Test your pandemic response plan.
It is important to test your company’s response plan with leaders and response team members to ensure there are no glitches or obstacles in the event of a real disaster. Test internal communication strategies – from response team leaders to staff members. This can be done manually or through an automatic notification system. You can also send employees to work at the alternate site or to work remotely to ensure there are no technical issues that can affect productivity.
Business Continuity Professionals say that “planning” helps mitigate panic and downtime. It takes work and resources to develop a resilient organization prior to an interruption or disaster, but it is imperative if businesses want to stay operational. Businesses cannot function without employees that maintain knowledge and expertise to operate the business, and those employees need to know what to do during an interruption or disaster. Without a plan, you will spend the entire time chasing the incident instead of recovering from it.
H1N1 Pandemic Planning Knowledge Center (contains webcasts, whitepapers and more)
Whitepaper: BCP-A Guide to Pandemic Response Planing (full version of this blog post)
Photo Credits: Alliance for Natural Health (Europe)