A forklift operator shuttles a pallet loaded with boxes of fresh fruit as fruit shipments arrive at the Port of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pa., April 16, 2020. (CBP photo by Glenn Fawcett)

A Resilience Framework for Businesses to Recover from a Pandemic Outbreak

Everyone is hugely concerned about quickly recovering from the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is disrupting and degrading every aspect of life globally. This is particularly the case with major corporations whose employees, business operations, facilities, partners, and customers are being severely impacted by the pandemic. Employees have to ensure they are not infected, with loss of business revenue some employees are furloughed or laid off, facilities need to be inspected for the presence of infections, partners might experience a variety of supply shortfalls, and in many sectors demand for products might fall off substantially due to the overall economic recession and high unemployment. Since corporations represent the backbone of a country’s economy, this article presents a framework for corporate managers to understand the components of resilience that are required to enable their businesses to efficiently operate their companies and recover from a pandemic-type catastrophe.

This framework is based on 10 dimensions that constitute a corporation’s overall resilience in managing potential major disruptions to its employees, operations, facilities, partners, and customers. These dimensions, which are arranged in alphabetical order for illustrative purposes, consist of crisis communications, cybersecurity, disaster management, financial security, human capital, legal and regulatory compliance, physical security, socio-economic ecosystem, strategic innovation, and supply chain and procurement.

This alphabetical ordering does not imply that all 10 resilient dimensions are equally weighted. Obviously, financial security, human capital, and physical security are more significant than a crisis communications capability, but for analytical purposes by presenting the 10 dimensions in such an order, this will enable those responsible for managing and planning their companies’ resilient posture to have an objective diagnostic tool they can utilize to assess their entities’ resilience levels in a systematic way. In this article, the dimensions are applied to assessing what would be required to recover from a COVID-19-type pandemic.

Crisis Communications

Viral pandemics are disruption-filled political, social, economic and public health events, accompanied by a sense of urgency to restore stability as quickly as possible. To increase public trust in a company, it requires effective and continuously updated responses in one’s messaging to employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and their local communities that all necessary safety measures are being implemented. For companies’ internal communications, this includes disseminating information that addresses the needs of essential and non-essential employees, including furloughed and terminated employees. Employees need to be informed about safety practices at the workplace, such as the availability of masks, hand sanitizers, temperature-taking, as well as the healthcare coverage available to them, such as access to medical facilities and vaccinations.

Cybersecurity

During a pandemic, with businesses utilizing their information technology and communications infrastructure to a greater extent than heretofore, safeguarding it from theft, malicious attacks or loss of WiFi-connectivity is crucial. In one aspect, the greater use of “work from home” employee telecommuting has led to increased dependence on digital tools, including video calls that might be unsecured. To safeguard their IT infrastructures, it is essential for companies to explain such risks to ensure their employees practice cyber hygiene, multi-factor authentication, and security updates.

Disaster Management

The efficient management of a company’s pre-existing resources to deal with a pandemic will help to mitigate its disruptive impacts in a preemptive way. A pandemic response coordinator and an emergency response team that forms a company-wide 24/7 emergency operations center needs to be in place, essential employees need to be identified, and critical operations need to be maintained for employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Safety programs need to be implemented to prevent the further spread of infection at a worksite in terms of social distancing, temperature-taking, personal protective gear (PPE) and, utilizing utmost sensitivity and legal compliance, the prompt exclusion of people, whether employees or customers, with virus symptoms. This dimension also involves coordinating with external organizations, including government agencies, and coordinating with one’s local community, if possible (see Socio-Economic Ecosystem).

Financial Security

A pandemic will severely constrain a corporation’s financial condition. An economic recession can reduce the demand by customers for its products and services. Some employees might be unavailable due to illness, procurement and supply chains might break down, and customers might cancel or postpone orders, all of which will affect a business’s cash flow and finances. To recover, businesses need to resolve their ‘cash gap’ by having sufficient cash flows in place to sustain the business for a prolonged period of low revenue, including securing available lines of credit/borrowing, preparing for cost reductions and temporary closures of certain operations, if necessary, and utilizing government financial support, if it is available.

Human Capital

The well-being of a company’s workforce is crucial to its survival. During a pandemic, it is crucial to identify essential employees to work on-site, including, if necessary, providing them flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), with others able to telecommute from their homes. On-site employees need to be provided appropriate facial flu masks, latex, vinyl, nitrile, or other synthetic hand gloves, and other protective personal equipment (PPEs) as necessary, as well as advice on proper social distancing. It is crucial to provide for the care of employees with special disability needs. Compliance-based compensation packages for furloughed and terminated employees need to be implemented, as well as sick-leave absences unique to a pandemic, including policies on when a previously ill person is no longer infectious and can return to work after illness.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance

This dimension covers the state of an entity’s compliance with legal and regulatory obligations applicable to the safety (including financial practices) of its business operations that would enable it to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a pandemic. With all the business disruptions associated with a pandemic, to demonstrate due diligence in implementing safety and employment practices, it is crucial to ensure compliance with governmental legal and regulatory obligations in these areas. In the United States, for example, companies must comply with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) directive to provide for a work environment that is safe from a spectrum of hazards. Companies also need to adhere to health safety guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is also important to ensure that employees’ furloughs and terminations are managed in accordance with governmental labor laws, as are contractual agreements with partners and suppliers.

Physical Security

Security threats are heightened during a pandemic, particularly when economic disruptions, such as job losses, precipitous loss of income, and a sense of hopelessness over the unceasing spread of infections might lead to heightened civil unrest, looting, and vandalism. Some terrorist groups might exploit a pandemic’s disruption to carry out violent attacks to further exacerbate civil unrest and a population’s loss of confidence in its government. Corporations’ security departments, therefore, must be especially vigilant in ensuring their personnel and facilities are protected during such turbulent periods.

Socio-Economic Ecosystem

During a pandemic, the state of a corporation’s local socio-economic ecosystem is particularly important in terms of its public health infrastructure (e.g., infection testing capability, ambulances, emergency medical personnel, intake of patients into local hospitals, etc.), protective supplies (e.g., facial masks, latex gloves, patient pulmonary ventilators, etc.), law enforcement, the presence of a healthy labor force, public transportation system, etc.

Strategic Innovation

In normal periods it is crucial for corporations to continuously innovate their products and services to drive business growth and increase their value. During a pandemic this is especially crucial, particularly when an economic recession might substantially reduce demand for its products and services. To quickly recover in a pandemic it is crucial for corporations to be nimble in their business offerings to maintain or even increase their revenues. As examples, to meet urgent demand in a pandemic for health-related products some automobile manufacturers are expanding their product offerings to include patient pulmonary ventilators, clothing factories are ramping up machines to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) such as facial masks and disposable medical gowns, store retailers are expanding their e-commerce offerings, and restaurants are offering quickly prepared takeout meals.

Supply Chain and Procurement

In managing a corporation’s acquisition of goods and services from external suppliers, it is crucial to ensure that backups and redundancies are identified for key suppliers that might be disrupted, in order to prevent significant delays to delivery of supplies, so that key customers receive sufficient supplies to prevent potential shortfalls. The sharp increase in demand for paper goods, such as paper towels, as well as facial masks, but the precipitous availability of such supplies in supermarkets is an example of the crucial importance of this dimension in a nation’s consumer goods.

Conclusion    

When these 10 dimensions are implemented efficiently, comprehensively and in an integrated manner, a corporation is likely to be resilient in proactively responding to and recovering from a pandemic-type disaster. It will enable it to avoid significant downsides to its business viability, competitiveness, and reputation, while safeguarding the well-being of its employees, as well. The overall society in which it operates will greatly benefit as well from the resilience of its corporate sectors.

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Dr. Joshua Sinai is a Washington, DC-based consultant for TorchStone Global (www.torchstoneglobal.com). He is also an adjunct faculty at Southern New Hampshire University’s graduate level criminal justice program’s distance learning courses, where he teaches courses on terrorism and counterterrorism.

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