Pandemic – nothing to worry about, right?

Pandemic – nothing to worry about, right?

The 2009 H1N1 pandemic was mild. Some said public health authorities got the world all worked up about nothing. A tempest in a teapot. However, it is critical to understand that pandemics are by nature unpredictable and can range from mild to incredibly deadly.

It’s only a matter of time before another pandemic occurs and its severity is entirely unknown. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “…pandemics are unpredictable, but recurring events that can cause severe social, economic, and political stress.”

We got lucky

In a January 2015 paper entitled “The warnings the world did not heed”, the WHO stated that “the world was lucky in 2009 as the virus was so mild, but ill-prepared to cope with any severe and sustained emergencies in the future…”

We dodged a bullet in 2009. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of deaths worldwide from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were between 151,700 and 575,400. Now half million deaths worldwide sure doesn’t sound like we got lucky, however, contrast those statistics with those of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which also featured a type of H1N1 virus and you will see the havoc a severe pandemic can wreak on the world.

It is estimated that the 1918 pandemic influenza killed up to 50 million people. The Spanish Flu pandemic is described as one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of humankind.

Risky business

Whether a pandemic is mild or severe is a roll of the dice.

At either end of the severity spectrum, pandemics require unique planning. Continuity of operations, including increased staff absenteeism, changes to the way services are delivered to customers, and interruptions in supply and delivery chains, are all vital considerations for business owners and managers.

Does your business have an up-to-date Pandemic Plan? Have your employees received training on the Plan and exercised it? Do they understand how your property will operate during a pandemic, how their roles and responsibilities may change, and how their health and safety will be protected in the workplace?

Top 7 Planning Recommendations

BOMA Canada’s 2017 Guide to Pandemic Planning offers seven planning recommendations, based upon guidance from public health authorities, including WHO, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

  1. Create a Pandemic Planning Committee, chaired by a designated Pandemic Coordinator. Membership in your company’s Pandemic Planning Committee should include representation from every department to ensure your plan considers business impacts from all angles.
  2. Integrate your Pandemic Plan with an all-hazards emergency plan, e.g., as one of several hazard-specific appendices in your property’s all-hazards emergency plan.
  3. Reference guidance from your provincial/territorial pandemic plan and be in alignment with the most current planning assumptions such as infection and fatality rates, possible worker absenteeism levels, expected duration of the pandemic, and expected waves of illness.
  4. Ensure your Plan clearly outlines pandemic response actions so that your property is ready to respond quickly if a pandemic is declared. The Pandemic Planning Committee overseeing the development of the Plan should identify preparedness activities, templates and tools needed to enable a nimble and effective pandemic response.
  5. Consider various scenarios, ranging from a mild pandemic to a severe one, and specify the actions to be taken in different scenarios.
  6. Include the following information in your Property Pandemic Plan:
    • Plan activation triggers
    • Essential/critical functions which need to be maintained during a pandemic
    • Staffing required to maintain these functions
    • Cross-training required to ensure critical functions are maintained
    • Equipment, supplies and suppliers required to enable the continuity of essential functions
    • Critical interdependencies
    • Protecting employee health and safety
    • Protecting tenant and visitor health and safety
    • Crisis communications
  7. Coordinate your Plan with the plans of key stakeholders including suppliers, business and community partners, tenants, and local/regional governments.  This will encourage coordination, clarify expectations, reveal gaps and faulty assumptions, and promote consistency.

Once your Plan has been finalized and approved, it is important to develop and execute a training strategy which includes one or more tabletop exercises to ensure stakeholders understand the Plan and its protocols and procedures. To promote multisector coordination, community partnerships, and foster a “whole-of-society” approach, invite community partners and tenants to your training and exercise events and attend theirs.

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

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