November 2012 issue of Life Science Leader
Success sometimes reflects of the number of calculated risks we’re willing to take both personally and professionally. That’s why contingency planning is so important — it allows active risk management and proactive preparation rather than reactive decisions when faced with an emergency, which can result in failure. The following are the five basic steps of contingency planning for epidemic, pandemic, or other emergency situations.
1. Program Management
Most organizations start by recruiting a contingency planning team that includes at least one representative from each department and every level of management down to the most entry-level positions. The team members identify the objectives of the contingency plan for each department, and then the team conducts realistic risk assessments that lead to creating the outline for responding to every potential threat.
Depending on the nature of the threat, you may need to recruit specific teams to deal with particular issues during an emergency, such as off-site storage, information technology, procurement, customers, vendors, and supplies.
Have the planning team conduct a thorough, realistic risk assessment and business impact analysis. The risk assessment will be the basis for the business impact analysis, followed by hazard prevention and risk mitigation policies.
The contingency plan will spell out clearly who (both internally and externally) gets notified and in what order. The first-tier people are most affected by the event and need information that will enable them to take immediate action.
The communications team is alerted to begin the second phase of both internal and external notification plans. Developing an emergency reporting form will help everyone have accurate facts from the beginning of the incident and throughout its eventual resolution. It also will aid the communications team in reporting facts and not speculation from other employees or emergency personnel.
The next notifications go to the second-tier audience — important but not on an immediate level — and may include customers, suppliers, vendors, utilities, and outside agencies. Notifications to third-tier audiences can wait for 20 to 30 minutes or up to an hour or more after the incident.
Eventually the contingency plan will guide the organization through each of the natural phases of the event and its goals: response, resumption, recovery, and restoration.
4. Testing & Exercise
If your company has completed a contingency plan, you will have fewer worries depending on the exact situation.
Key learning: There must be basic supply infrastructure to provide key materials and resources prior to an emergency outbreak if that outbreak is to be controllable. The costs of such contingency planning are miniscule in comparison to a potential delay or inability to react in time.
5. Program Improvement
Just because the immediate threat has passed does not mean there isn’t work to do following any disaster or disease outbreak — human or animal. Although most major companies have been involved in short-term emergency situations, it makes good business sense to have long-term support plans in case you’re dealing with an emergency, epidemic, or pandemic for days, weeks, months, or even years.
In an effort to become more proactive than reactive, government agencies are now doing periodic testing for a variety of contagious conditions and diseases. After the initial outbreak and containment of a pathogen, eradication can only succeed in situations where constant monitoring of the health of the infected population occurs until no more people or animals exhibit symptoms of the disease. The true measure of success comes when no other patients report symptoms over an extended period of time. Further questions need to be answered, such as, is the eradication program working, or is the disease dying off by itself?
Vigilance and frequency are the ongoing missions that governments are tasked with and to be held accountable for to ensure the health and well-being of both humans and animals around the world. It is a mission we also share responsibility for those under our charge. The lessons continue as it is a case of not if, but when.
What if . . .
On a more personal level, what if the outbreak is within your company? What will your company do if movement within a geographic area is restricted for a day, week, or month?
What if a significant number of employees are too sick to work? For those employees who have not come down with the illness, how will they get to work if mass transportation is restricted or is prohibited from operating? Will your employees within the containment area have access to electricity, the Internet, and/or cell phone or land lines? What if we’re stuck in our building for 24 hours or more?
How will the company keep its temperature-sensitive IMP or tissue samples stored at the appropriate temperature in the event of a power loss associated with some disaster? How long do we need to keep them at the appropriate temperature before they’re ruined or, worse, dangerous? How many backup generators are required to keep our investment safe? What if we’re ordered to evacuate? Do we need a refrigerated truck standing by? Will the authorities allow it in the area? Where will there be fuel available to refill it? Where will we send it to wait out the situation?
Many companies keep temperature-controlled packaging on hand in case their refrigerators or freezers do lose power. Many passive systems can maintain temperature control for 24 hours up to five days. Companies that provide temperature-controlled packaging often keep an extra amount of dry ice on hand for their customers in an emergency. Then we have to ask ourselves, will the dry ice supplier be able to get here?
Developing a system of pre-alerts can help life sciences companies prepare at least a week or two before products or services are needed. Generally speaking, we recommended having a minimum reservoir of products on hand to last one month at least. Outbreaks can last two to three months or longer, so managing stock components is crucial.
In the life sciences industry we need to ask ourselves, do we have an off-the-shelf solution in house or will we need to adapt components to fit the current situation? Do we need to start from scratch? During a crisis your company may need to design a new protocol that enables you to accelerate the prototype, testing, and validation processes.
Will our suppliers be able to get to us? Or will we have to go to them? Having at least one major component supplier within a day’s drive of your office or manufacturing facility will allow maximum flexibility in the worst-case scenario. We recommend you have a backup supplier for that one in every state (or region) surrounding your base of operations or manufacturing facility in case of geographic restrictions.
No matter how detailed and well thought out any contingency plan is, it is worthless without practice. Your company should practice a disaster plan at least once a year and preferably twice. The opportunities to learn from each practice will help refine and streamline the contingency plans for better employee safety and an enhanced company reputation.
About the Author
David Walsh founded DGP Life Science in 1998 after developing a unique packaging solution designed for the transportation of samples suspected of containing the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis or “Mad Cow Disease”) prion. Mr. Walsh is widely regarded as an expert in environmentally sustainable business practices and is often called upon to give presentations on the subject.