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March 3, 2020

In today’s globally connected marketplace, organizations are continually faced with an ever-evolving landscape of risks. While these risks can have a profound impact on day-to-day execution, they can also contribute to long term loss. We see this with the current media coverage on the coronavirus outbreak, where the focus has been on public health and travel freezes. But there is a chain reaction that also effects trade, supply chain production, and business continuity — possibly resulting in an economic recession.

So what is a company to do to ensure that they are well prepared for these types of events? The answer is simple — establish an Emergency Response Plan (ERP).

You might be thinking that emergency response plans are for fire or weather only, but a robust plan includes requirements for any and all critical events. With a well thought out strategy and business continuity plan, you can mitigate loss and restore business operations much more quickly than those without these programs in place.

If you do not have an emergency plan in place, here are some steps to get you prepared for quick and effective implementation:

1. Designate a team to immediately evaluate the current and potential threats to your business. Involve key stakeholders from legal, purchasing, supply management, public relations, IT, operations, safety, security, and medical (or a medical provider knowledgeable of your organization). Once roles, responsibilities, and decision making are defined, the team should meet in person or virtually as often as necessary to stay aligned. Consider obtaining a risk management firm to guide you in your process.

2. Designate an executive as the decision maker and point of contact for the top leadership of the company.

3. Have your public relations team and security representatives closely monitor news reports to keep the team alerted to updates on the spread of the virus. They should ensure that all internal and external communications have been independently corroborated before publishing or sharing updates. The CDC and Homeland Security are excellent sources for factual updates.

4. Your public relations and/or internal communications team should communicate regularly with employees — ideally once daily — with an update regarding concrete steps that the company is taking. Additionally, they should provide employees with as much information as possible about what they need to do to stay safe (hand washing, travel, not coming to work if they don’t feel well, etc). Ensure employees are aware of these communications and advise them to express their concerns to their direct management, who will continually update the emergency plan team of concerns as much as possible.

5. Keep senior management well advised developments and issues arising during the course of the crisis.

6. Freeze travel to areas known to be infected and act quickly to add restrictions to areas where new cases have been confirmed. Suggest to employees that they delay vacations to these areas until the pandemic passes.

7. Quickly determine your network capacity to securely add more home-based connections. Particularly in countries where the virus is spreading and/or indicates major infections within the population.

8. Assess what supplies are on hand such as masks, sanitizers, gloves, and related materials at the facility level. Consider what steps to take if one of your employees contracts the virus who works in one of your facilities — close production or have the plant/office cleaned.

9. Ensure the finance staff has access to appropriate cash reserves or lines of credit to ensure continual operations of the enterprise.

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