Bird Flu Pandemic Planning--Are Your Assets Covered?
The build up of planning, and writing a pandemic response plan for financial institutions needs to happen. A year ago, headlines were screaming about a looming disaster: the rapid spread of bird flu across two-thirds of the globe. That worldwide pandemic hasn't yet materialized, and bird flu has been out of the headlines for a while.
Financial institutions need to realize that their business continuity plan that is prepared for the â€œnormalâ€ disaster scenario wonâ€™t translate effectively into a plan for handling their continuity plans during a pandemic, said Tom Walsh, CISSP and certified business continuity professional, of Overland Park, KS.
â€œPandemic flu is different than other threats, so traditional continuity planning needs to be addressed and altered for a pandemic flu outbreak,â€ Walsh explained. In a normal business disaster the building or equipment is impacted by damage, in a pandemic, itâ€™s the people who will fall ill. As far as predictions go, experts are estimating anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the workforce will be impacted. That number includes your institution, so take that number into account.â€
Another reason to treat a pandemic differently than a â€œnormalâ€ disaster is the move to an offsite location, Walsh noted. â€œWhat if 40 percent of your workers donâ€™t make it to the branch or your operation center, or if they must relocate to a smaller, closed-in space?â€
According to Walsh, pandemic planning experts say, â€œThat will be a big no-no in terms of prevention. To help stem the spread of the influenza, minimum distances will be enforced. This will make a great deal of difference in terms of how many people youâ€™re able to accommodate at an offsite location.â€
As for operating financial institutions during a pandemic, â€œA great deal of thought needs to be put into how to implement influenza prevention measures. I donâ€™t know about you, but wearing a mask inside of a bank isnâ€™t my idea of a best business practice,â€ Walsh said. The preventative act of â€œsocial distancingâ€ may create another question of how to handle customers when they visit your institution.
Financial institutions need to view their pandemic plan as something that can stretch out over more than one or two weeks too, he noted. Planning for disaster recovery is usually a one-time event, with a quick recovery period, where you want to get back youâ€™re your normal business as quickly as possible. In planning for a pandemic, the infection period may stretch out from 6 to 12 weeks, and may come in waves, as different portions of the population are infected. Being able to sustain business over a prolonged period of time will need a different type of approach than what most BCPs contain,â€ he explained.
One example of this that Walsh pointed to was the â€œjust-in-timeâ€ delivery contracts with suppliers and other vendors. â€œThis is where it will become a struggle, because if youâ€™re facing a pandemic over a wide geographic area, your local suppliers will be facing the same types of disruption in their workforce as youâ€™re experiencing. So the question for institutions is, how to store the supplies they will need?â€
Preparing a pandemic plan is a task that every financial institution can do, Walsh concluded. â€œItâ€™s something that has a high likelihood of occurring and unlike a tornado, or earthquake, weâ€™ll have at minimum a few hours notice of when itâ€™s going to hit, itâ€™s just having that plan ready to implement that is key.â€