Coronavirus – Facts and Planning

Gary Hibberd

7th February 2020

The Coronavirus has been on the news quite a lot recently, and in more recent days we’re seeing documentaries being aired asking, “Can the UK cope?”. 

Interestingly, both the news and these programmes have a polarising effect on the population, as we hear of people fearing the worst, or blaming the media for creating another mass panic that is not warranted.

 

Historical Context

Flu outbreaks have been with us for a long time. The worst known case was known as ‘Spanish Flu’ in 1918, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide.  Perhaps this explains our nervousness when we hear that a new ‘deadly’ virus has emerged.

In living memory (for most of us), our thoughts will turn to Avian flu, which affected a very small portion of the world population (around 100 people), in 2005 – 2006. Following this, we had the Swine Flu outbreak of 2009 – 2010, which claimed significantly more lives. Around 200,000 people are thought to have died as a result of Swine Flu.

 

Context is Everything

According to the World Health Organisation, around 650,000 people die each year of respiratory disease, which is linked to flu, or more accurately known as ‘The Common Cold’.

I’m not saying, we shouldn’t be concerned about this more recent outbreak, because we should, but, we need to understand a few basic facts first, and then start to plan. So let’s do that.

 

Firstly, what is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses, some cause illness in humans, while others attack animals. But the coronavirus just had an upgrade! Coronavirus 2019, or “2019-nCoV” (the ‘n’ stands for ‘Novel’) has been affecting people in China, but mostly in the Hubei Province.

Not much is known about this recent strain but is is suspected to spread like similar other viruses by cough droplets.

 

Pandemic Planning

There is a complete body of work in a place which discusses how organisations should plan for pandemics, but at their heart, all that work boils down to a few simple steps, and all of it sits firmly in the discipline of Business Continuity Planning.

 

Business Continuity

Anyone who knows me will know how passionate I am about all things cybersecurity and Data Protection related. But in truth, what I’m interested in is helping people with Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability (CIA). 

The Triad of Information Security (as it is known) runs through everything I do, and we do at Cyberfort. And Business Continuity Planning is encapsulated with the word ‘Availability’.

 

  • Are your systems Available when you need them?
  • Is access to the data Available to the right people, at the right time?
  • Are your people Available to help run your business, and serve your customers?

 

It is to the final point above that Pandemic planning comes to the fore; It doesn’t matter if your systems are up and working if your people aren’t there to answer calls, serve customers, or help you run your business.

 

What do you need to do?

Firstly, don’t panic; Plan.

You need to recognise that your business does not operate in a vacuum. Put your own feelings to one side and recognise that your staff might be worried, or your clients and your suppliers might be affected.

There is a reason this is on the News; because it’s of interest to the general public, and the public includes you, your customers, your employees, and your suppliers.

The next thing to ask is; How could this impact me and my business?

 

  • Are any of my staff concerned? (Hint; Ask them)
  • Which regions have been affected (Hint: Assign someone to the task of tracking it)
  • Do I have anyone travelling to/from any of the affected regions? (Hint: Ask)
  • Are any supplies likely to be affected by disruption to travel? (Hint: Review suppliers)
  • What contingency plans do I need to put in place? (Hint: Document these steps).

 

When I was helping organisations plan for Swine Flu and Avian Flu, we asked the following questions;

 

  • What is the impact on us if this Flu comes into Europe?
  • What is the impact on us if this Flu comes into the UK?
  • What is the impact on us if this Flu comes into this region (40-mile radius)?

 

Pandemic Planning

I am not a fan of ‘scenario planning’, as it leaves too many holes in your plan.

What you should always be doing in Business Continuity is planning for the complete or partial loss of;

 

  • People
  • Premises
  • Processes
  • PCs
  • Providers

 

But there are outliers. Planning for Pandemics and seasonal bad weather are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but both deserve some careful consideration. 

If you have already based your plans on the above premise of People, Premises etc., then you’ll already have a plan to deal with the (unlikely) event of a loss of people or providers due to a serious flu outbreak.

 

What next?

No one knows for sure what will happen with this strain of Coronavirus, and we all hope that it does not take more lives, and a vaccine is quickly developed.

But until that happens, we need to recognise that people (i.e. Your clients, employees, suppliers) will be watching the news and asking themselves ‘What if?’

Without knowledge, training or experience, people in these situations go through three phases. These phases have been dubbed the ‘Survival Arc’. The faster you and your business move through them, the more likely you will survive. These stages are;

 

  • Denial (“it’s not really a crisis. It’ll be ok”). 
  • Negotiation (“Ok. This looks bad. Should I do something? What are others doing?”)
  • Action (“Ok. This looks serious. I need to do something.”)

 

What saves businesses (and lives) is moving from Denial to Action as quickly as possible. Wasted minutes can cost lives when it comes to First Aid and in business terms wasted minutes, hours and days can cause untold damage and losses to your business and reputation.

Successful Planning should be in your DNA.

Knowledge, information and planning go a long way to calming fears. If these are missing, then you’re leaving people to use their imaginations on ‘what if’ looks like. So, help them. Close the gap and start planning.

If you’re interested in more information on the Coronavirus, keep up to date by visiting the World Health Organisation.

If you’re concerned about your own BC Planning and need general help or specific help with Pandemic Planning, please get in touch.

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