Pandemics: Should you plan for another one?

Every single country on this planet is currently affected by the Corona virus pandemic. Not all are affected equally, though. Some are further along in the spread; others have contained their small number of cases. Some have taken severe measures to stop the spread of the disease, while others face devastating death tolls. While some countries are slowly opening up, others took a while to accept the hazard as real in the first place. But no matter what a country did or did not do to control the pandemic, the measures taken are already showing their impact on the economy everywhere. Unemployment rates increase, business owners face bankruptcy, supply chains are interrupted, governments create billions and billions of debt and promises for further support the tax payer is one day asked to pay back.

Been there, done that

We might feel like this is the worst it can get, and that we can check the pandemic box in our risk assessment: been there, done that. But that’s not the case. First and foremost, we are all but through. Scientist warn that a second wave of COVID 19 might hit us in fall, meaning that what we are justslowly gaining back in terms of opening businesses, schools etc. is likely to be shut down again. But even if that never happens: pandemics, and their smaller sisters, epidemics, are quite common. They do not always create impact of such scale – luckily – but there are local outbreaks of diseases all the time. And your business, too, can be affected.

So, yes, you should plan for another pandemic, and epidemic. And the current crisis can help us identify what we need to consider.

What is a pandemic and why does it matter?

While an epidemic is a local outbreak of an infectious disease, a pandemic affects the whole world. This doesn’t mean that every single country gets infections, but the disease spread to several countries. When an epidemic turns into a pandemic is called by the WHO. For our emergency management on business level the distinction is usually irrelevant, but national and international agencies’ responsibility is affected. So, when we talk about pandemics in this post, we include epidemics.

A pandemic’s hazardousness is determined by how easy it spreads, how many infected people get sick and how severe the symptoms are, including how many patients die. For known diseases, those numbers are usually well established, and medication or vaccines available. But for new diseases, such as the current COVID 19 pandemic, those numbers are yet to be determined, with knowledge fast evolving and medical research under way. This can be a tough situation for the public to handle, as it may look like even the experts don’t know what to do. In your business, you are the one people look at for guidance. Basic knowledge of what’s going on and how scientists work helps you to stay calm and make confident decisions even if you don’t need all the details.

When creating an emergency plan, include a section of where to turn for information. Include the WHO, your national health department, and your local government. As we cannot judge the medical or epidemiological side of a disease, we have to work along the guidelines provided. Do yourself a favour and stick to that rather than trying to keep up with current developments in medicine if that’s not your zone of genius anyway.

How can a pandemic affect your business?

As we see currently, the government can shut your business down. Or it can shut your client’s business or your suppliers down to stop the spread of a disease. Luckily, that’s not happening very often on that big a scale and for such a long time. The Coronavirus is just spreading really easily. But depending on your business, an outbreak of a disease may lead to closure for a limited time.

Customers can get cautious and indirectly hurt your business by not buying from you, or saving more money in general. Huge crises always affect buying behaviour, which can be good or bad for your business, depending on what you sell. And even if everything goes well, your staff – or you – can catch the disease and fall sick. That’s why so many companies do have a flu pandemic plan they could easily adapt to the Corona situation. Because every so often, flu season is so bad that large numbers of employees fall sick and can’t come to work.

The next step we are facing in the Corona pandemic is a period where businesses are allowed to re-open, but take protective measures for staff and customers. Do you have a hygienic concept?

What can you do?

If you plan to re-open soon, update your hygienic concept according to the rules and regulations in your location. Make sure you have the resources required, such as disinfectants, soap, paper towels, etc. Inform your customers and staff members about the measures taken. Be clear and avoid room for interpretation.

Set clear responsibilities and make sure everyone is informed and trained. Ensure that a decision maker is available at all operating times. This does not have to be you, so plan ahead and decide who can be your substitute.

Go through your operations and check where your business is vulnerable to the impact of a pandemic. If you are forced to shut down, which part of your business can you take online? Are you going to increase that share now that we saw what can happen? Do you have the resources – financial, time, skills etc. – to diversify?

Designate the required resources, define triggers that’s et the plan in motion, and establish routines to re-evaluate your plan.

If all else fails

How long can you survive on your savings? What costs could you cut without hurting the business? Do you have insurance? What does it cover? Do you want to adapt your contracts to fit your risk assessment?

What about your own support system? Do you have someone to share your worries and discuss what’s going on in your business? Someone who is realistic about hazards and risk, but supportive and positive about your ability to deal with it? Who is taking care of or supporting you at home while you take care of your business, community, staff members and customers? As a business owner, the emergency plan for your business should go with an emergency plan for your home, especially if you have kids or other family members who rely on you. It can be difficult enough to juggle both spheres during good times. Prepare yourself so that your carefully crafted system does not break during a crisis.


Do you want to get deeper into planning for emergencies in your business? Check out our Disaster Preparation Intro course on Teachable. This 4-week online course will introduce you to the full emergency management cycle and help you start your planning process.

Of course we are also available for individual consulting projects or coaching calls to discuss what you need to do to mitigate risk in your organisation. We are here to help you kick drama out of your life and business!

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Header photo: Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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