Getting enough (pandemic) exercise…

Getting enough (pandemic) exercise…

At their annual meeting in October of this year, the World Bank held a pandemic exercise. This wasn’t a one-off – they have had several pandemic exercises within the year.

An increasing threat

The Washington Post1 reports that in addition to the October exercise, the World Bank conducted a simulation for executives of major companies attending the January World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Later, in July, they worked with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to conduct a pandemic simulation for health ministers at the G-20 meeting.
The Post suggests that the World Bank’s attention to the pandemic threat is evidence of “…the growing awareness outside the traditional global health sector of the increasing threat and economic disruption posed by a global pandemic.”2

Keeping Bill Gates awake at night

“I view the threat of deadly pandemics right up there with nuclear war and climate change,” Bill Gates wrote in a February 2017 Business Insider op-ed3 . “The fact that a deadly global pandemic has not occurred in recent history”, Gates writes, “shouldn’t be mistaken for evidence that a deadly pandemic will not occur in the future.”

What’s his solution to the looming threat of a pandemic? Gates states that “careful planning can dramatically mitigate the risk…”

So what’s the plan?

There are helpful resources available to assist Canadian businesses develop a pandemic plan if they don’t already have one, or if they do have one to update their existing plan. BOMA Canada has recently released the 2017 Guide to Pandemic Planning which discusses eight key planning categories for Canadian business owners and managers to consider. These categories are:

  1. Pandemic plan contents
  2. Keeping employees safe and healthy
  3. How to communicate in a pandemic
  4. Supplies and suppliers
  5. Information technology
  6. Security
  7. Legal considerations
  8. Business continuity


Taking care of business

According to the BOMA Canada 2017 Guide to Pandemic Planning there are 3 core business continuity challenges companies can expect during a pandemic:

  1. Absenteeism – a pandemic may affect a large percentage of your workforce during periods of peak illness. Employees could be absent because they are sick, must care for sick family members or for children if schools or day care centers are closed or are afraid to come to work.
  2. Change in patterns of commerce – items related to infection control will be in high demand, while consumer demand for other items may decline. Consumers may also change how they shop, preferring to shop at off-peak hours to reduce contact with other people, using home delivery services, or seeking out drive-through services to minimize person-to-person contact.
  3. Interrupted supply/delivery – shipments of items from areas severely affected by the pandemic may be delayed or cancelled. 


Regular exercise

A best-practice, tried-and-true way to ensure your plan will work is to test it. Conducting emergency exercises on a regular basis with stakeholders, including staff, senior management, and community partners will reveal gaps, challenges, and inaccurate assumptions. As Gates says, “We need to prepare … the way the military prepares for war. This includes preparedness exercises so we can better understand how diseases will spread, how people will respond … and how to deal with things like overloaded highways and communications systems4.

Susan Bazak specializes in emergency management for private and public-sector clients to build a prepared workforce and disaster resilient organizations. She can be reached at

1 Sun, L. (October 24, 20217) World leaders rehearse for a pandemic that will come ‘sooner than later’, Washington Post. Retrieved from
2 ibid

3 Gates, B. (February 18, 2017) A new kind of terrorism could wipe out 30 million people in less than a year – and we are not prepared, Business Insider. Retrieved from

4 ibid

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