Over 80,000 cases and counting. A death toll of over 2,700 as of February 25th, 2020. Multiple fatalities in China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and even on cruise ships. What started as an epidemic in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province is on course to turn into a global pandemic.
While the number of new cases in China seem to be declining (thanks in large part to the dedication of healthcare workers in Wuhan), the rapid spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19, 2019-nCoV or SARS-CoV-2 in some quarters) has put pandemic preparedness to the forefront of governmental and corporate discussions.
While the immediate health risk to the general North American public is certainly very low (significantly lower than traditional influenza which has led to the deaths of over 10,000 in the U.S. so far this flu season), the international panic induced by coronavirus has many organizations questioning whether they would be prepared for such an event if it happened closer to home. And with this in mind, here are five steps that can help protect your organization from a public health crisis.
Train Your Employees on Prevention Techniques
Whether through the use of in-office or online employee information notices, employers should educate employees about any public health crisis. Being able to identify the symptoms of any condition (fever, cough and shortness of breath in the case of coronavirus) as well as how to mitigate the spread of the illness is paramount for employee wellbeing, both physical and mental.
While no two viruses are the same, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following everyday preventive actions can help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases like coronavirus:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash.
Crucially, the CDC does not recommend the wearing of facemasks to prevent infection. In fact, there’s no evidence that facemasks are of any benefit whatsoever to the wearer. Due to the collectivist nature of societies in Asia, people will generally wear facemasks if they themselves are ill to prevent passing the infection onto others. And with facemask shortages being reported around the globe, keeping such masks available for those who need them will greatly help the fight against coronavirus.
Provide Your Team with Trusted Sources of Information
Public health events, no matter how minor, are breeding grounds for mass hysteria. Even one misreported fact can cause panic so being in control of the narrative is essential. Online misinformation can quickly cause employee anxiety so keeping the latest guidelines from the CDC or World Health Organization (WHO) on-hand is essential.
For ongoing updates, only reputable news outlets that attribute their information to governmental agencies or healthcare professionals should be used.
Organizations should also take steps to safeguard the mental wellbeing of employees who may be concerned about a pandemic. This could include access to assistance programs as well as reassurance that any risk to their welfare is being managed.
Plan for Business Continuity
In the event of a public health crisis, it may seem like the world is coming to a standstill. However, your organization can’t afford to lose multiple days or weeks to any outside forces. To this end, employers must be proactive in undertaking Business Continuity Plans to protect their business interests.
A simple and cost-effective way to do this is to implement flexible working arrangements. Enabling employees to work from home or another location can serve the dual purpose of preventing the spread of the virus in the workplace while also reassuring your employees that they aren’t at risk. While some jobs are location-specific, many positions can utilize the various technological solutions available to both work and collaborate effectively from an alternate location.
Reconsidering leave policies is also sound business practice in a pandemic scenario. The last thing any company wants is for infected employees to attend work due to a lack of remaining leave. Forcing ill employees to come to work in this way could have far-reaching implications not just for those employees but also for their colleagues and overall business productivity.
Finally, while it may sound obvious, every organization should update their travel rules and arrangements for travel to affected areas. Non-essential business travel is a sure-fire way to expose employees to a harmful outbreak and limiting this exposure is essential. As evidenced by coronavirus, aggressive viruses can spread rapidly with the outbreak in Italy partially stemming from an Italian national repatriated from China due to the illness.
Give Careful Consideration to Your Supply Chains
Even if none of your employees travel to an affected area or show any symptoms of the illness in question, the interconnected nature of international supply chains could have ramifications for your business. For example, Wuhan is the center of the automobile industry in China and the outbreak has had an undoubted effect on many big names like Nissan, Honda and Toyota.
While public health issues in China will affect many organizations, being aware of where your supplies come from is paramount. This will allow you to stockpile certain items or source alternate suppliers in the event of a health crisis tying up critical vendors. If the outbreak is contained quickly, the worst-case scenario is that you have some extra supplies. If the crisis gets worse, your business won’t come to a standstill.
Effective Communication is Key
As important as the first four steps are, there really is nothing more important than clear and effective communication.
Crucially, this communication strategy should be multi-pronged and should make use of all channels of communications available to you. The best way to reach one employee may not be effective at reaching another and ensuring complete delivery of every company directive is imperative. This is especially pronounced in large, multi-national organizations where you have thousands of employees working at various locations. Having the ability to notify everyone simultaneously and instantaneously may well be the difference between mild inconvenience and potential death.
For example, an employee may have returned from an affected area displaying symptoms of coronavirus. To protect other workers, you need to be able to send targeted messages informing staff to work from home. By utilizing an emergency alert and mass notification system like CentrAlert’s Crisis-Driven Alert & Control (C-DAC), you can quickly take control of such a situation and communicate with your entire team in a matter of seconds.
CentrAlert’s NOW! Module Gets the Right Messages to the Right People at the Right Time
CentrAlert’s personal communication solutions can quickly route unique messages to selected individuals or groups based on their location or role. Whether sending situational awareness information to first responders or providing employees with updates on workplace safety, CentrAlert’s industry-leading message distribution system gets the right information to the right people at the right time.
Our NOW!™ Module delivers email, mobile pop-ups, computer pop-ups, text messages, social media updates and cell phone call-outs to ensure that your message finds its intended recipient as quickly as possible. The Operator can target specific messages to specific recipients simultaneously. For some modules, the NOW! Module even offers two-way communication to account for worker safety.
All of these solutions can be adapted to fit any pandemic prevention plan and if you want more information on how CentrAlert can help your organization to mitigate a public health crisis, please click here.
Tags: crisis communication, crisis preparedness, emergency management, health security, pandemic, protective action