Did Your Business Continuity Plan Rise to the Pandemic Challenge

As the UK moves back lockdown due to COVID-19, it may be a good time to reflect on the performance of your Business Continuity Planning during this current crisis?

Back in March 2020 businesses were asking how can we plan for something like COVID-19?. This is possibly a fair point given that most businesses, never mind the Government, have not experienced anything like this before.

However, as one voice, the country has been asking the Government what they should do and what the Government are going to do to help on a daily basis. It seems reasonable that we should expect the Government to be prepared and get it (mostly) right at times like this, regardless of who is in power.

One could argue argued that the Government was  unprepared, as were many businesses, and has struggled to manage to the current crisis because it did not have a detailed robust and tested Epidemic/Pandemic Continuity Plan, like the ones it has to deal with counter terrorism, potential war scenarios, cyber security breaches, environmental disaster etc. which are more common occurrences.

These days, the focus tends to be on ITC continuity. The majority of businesses appear to only have one Business Continuity Plan, to deal with an ITC Disaster, to manage the effects of losing internet, phone lines and IT Services because everyone has suffered these problems.

As other incidents are rare there is a culture of: ‘It has not happened to us yet, so why plan?’ This sort of thinking leaves businesses very much in the same position as we are now, reacting to a catastrophic incident without a plan in place or someone in the business to take ownership of the situation. We know COVID-19 is currently a one-off incident but how many businesses have planned for a major health incident

We can look at a similar isolated scenario. What would happen if an employee returned home from a holiday in Asia and within couple of weeks became seriously ill and showing symptoms no one had seen before? Then, over the next few days more and more employees started to show similar symptoms and stayed off work, resulting in 80% of the work force being off sick for an unknown length of time. If this were your business, could you cope and what would you do to manage the situation?

There have been many lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis and it is unlikely that life as we knew it will ever be the same again for businesses. Although the fall out will continue for some time to come, the lessons we have learned need to be used to good effect to ensure that if and more likely when, another catastrophic incident (not necessarily an epidemic or pandemic) hits a business, the business can cope and survive because they have prepared.

There are some very good examples of the above depending on the industry sectors, with some businesses having multiple Business Continuity Plans for cyber security breaches or environmental disasters or fatal workplace accidents or fatal vehicle collisions because they know they will happen at some point.

Some industries, such as the transport and logistics sector, have adapted very well during the pandemic to keep the country fed and on the move. However, very few, if any of the businesses in this sector would have had a plan in place to prepare them for what has happened. This is likely to be the same for Business Continuity Plans for other catastrophic incidents that could affect them.

‘It has not happened to us yet!’ is an excuse that should now be well and truly confined to history.

All businesses should, going forward, be planning plan for the numerous unexpected catastrophic incidents that could affect them in the future and have a robust and stress tested Business Continuity Plan for each type of incident. This may seem excessive but we have clearly seen over the last seven weeks, one plan does not fit all scenarios and most of the catastrophic incidents that could affect businesses will not get government support.