It was the day of New Year’s Eve when the World Health Organization began hearing reports of a new and mysterious virus in eastern China. Thought to have (like the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003) jumped from animals to humans in a seafood market, this novel coronavirus seemed to be causing cases of severe pneumonia – and was spreading quickly.
Fast forward nearly one month to the day from that initial alert, and the “devil virus” that suddenly appeared in Wuhan has now infected some 7,928 people and killed 170 (all figures as of Jan. 30,2020) and now, the World Health Organization has declared a Global Health Emergency. And although progress is being made towards developing a vaccine, governments and organizations are scrambling to keep up with a fast-moving situation.
Hoping to avoid repeating mistakes made during the SARS epidemic, China’s central government has implemented massive quarantines – the largest in human history – on an area comprising 12 cities and 35 million people. It’s a measure that has divided experts in terms of its effectiveness, but is sure to have negative economic impacts.
Indeed, organizations with operations in the quarantine zone are having to make difficult decisions. Many are either halting operations, or restricting employee travel to China (or both). A large number of knowledge workers in the quarantine zone are being told to work from home indefinitely. Even in the context of smaller outbreaks, such as the 4 people working for a single company in Bavaria, Germany, their 3000-person employer requested most office staff to work from home until the extent of the problem becomes clear. Is your business ready to enable most of your team to work from home in an instant?
The global village is vulnerable
The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report was blunt in its assessment of global pandemic readiness: Although progress has been made since SARS and the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016, “health systems worldwide are still under-prepared for significant outbreaks of other emerging infectious diseases”.
“No country is fully prepared to handle an epidemic or pandemic,” the report continued. “Meanwhile, our collective vulnerability to the societal and economic impacts of infectious disease crises appears to be increasing.”
As our collective vulnerability increases, so do risks to organizations with operations in emergency zones. And although one hopes all organizations within China’s quarantine zone had an emergency plan in place to deal with such a situation, the reality is that it’s likely many didn’t – and still don’t.
So what should organizations do to ensure they’re always prepared – or, at least, as prepared as possible – for a major emergency like a quarantine or massive natural disaster?
How organizations can prep for city-wide emergencies
It’s not just about quarantines, of course. Organizations, no matter their industry, location or business model, face a variety of potential hazards every day. These include natural hazards such as floods, extreme weather, and earthquakes; human hazards like accidents, violence, power or equipment failures; and, of course, health hazards like pandemics or epidemics.
Although it’s next to impossible to plan individually for every possible hazard, luckily most emergencies – from earthquakes to terrorist attacks to pandemics – require a similar preparedness plan. The costs of being unprepared are simply too great: According to ready.gov, three-quarters of organizations without an emergency plan will likely have failed within three years of a major disaster. Medium-sized businesses that close or halt operations due to disasters lose an average of $23,000 per day.
The U.S. government’s resources for emergencies like earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding recommends businesses:
- Identify risks: Which types of risks are the most likely to affect your organization? Which could have the most serious implications?
- Develop a plan: Having a plan in place before an emergency reduces the chance of bad or uninformed decision-making during a chaotic situation
- Take action: Once a hazard is recognized, immediately implement your plan
- Help others: If you’re able to, use your resources to help other people or organizations in need.
How organizations can plan for the worst
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends organizations develop preparedness plans for major natural disasters according to five S’s: Staff, space, systems, structure and service:
- Staff. This includes preparing your staff for emergencies by developing a communications plan, along with conducting employee awareness and training programs.
- Space. Non-structural mitigation measures such as securing equipment like computers and filing cabinets,
- Systems. Includes measures like securing water heaters, installing protective coatings on windows, and anchoring/bolting down air compressors or propane tanks.
- Structure. Structural mitigation such as reinforcing concrete and masonry constructions.
- Service. If able to, plan to help assist your community by providing your services or resources.
Measures such as test drills to ensure employees know where to go and what to do in an emergency can also be beneficial.
Similarly, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has free tools available for organizations to plan for potential epidemics or pandemics. Because businesses can play a big role in helping fight pandemics by taking the right actions, the CDC developed this checklist for U.S. businesses with overseas operations in the event of a pandemic. Among other things, it advises organizations to:
- Appoint a pandemic coordinator at every international facility to oversee planning and implementation
- Establish pandemic response team(s) with clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and authorities at your international facilities
- Identify business functions that can be outsourced or transferred to other facilities
- Identify and develop plans to augment the current workforce with temporary workers and contractors
- Advise employees who are ill to stay home from work.
This last bit – augmenting your current workforce with contractors and keeping employees at home – can have serious implications for business continuity, especially for knowledge-based businesses where your human capital needs timely and secure access to corporate systems and desktop work environments.
The costs of being unprepared are simply too great: Three-quarters of organizations without an emergency plan will likely have failed within three years of a major disaster. (Source: Ready.gov)
Ensuring business continuity during a disaster
Thankfully, more tools than ever now exist for workers to punch in just as effectively from home as from the office. These include video conferencing services like Skype or Google Hangouts, workflow management and coordination tools from Slack or Trello, and remote access to corporate networks and systems through secure and compliant cloud virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).
When it comes to IT infrastructure, cloud desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) options have been the prudent choice for a few years now – before that, most companies could do was ask people to work on unsecured personal devices and residential WiFi networks. Unfortunately, DaaS systems tend to assume everything inside an organization’s network is trustworthy (a position which, in an age of ever-more-sophisticated attacks and insider threats, is foolhardy).
Secure and compliant cloud VDI, however, can help organizations leveraging remote workforces during a pandemic by providing:
- An on-demand, backup virtual workplace
- Secure, remote access to corporate systems
- Detailed logging and auditing to ensure control (and auditability) over and of the remote work environment
Secure and compliant cloud VDI is practically tailor-made for an emergency: onboarding new workers securely can be done in minutes, and your capacity for new desktop workstations can be easily scaled up or down as needed. Organizations can quickly leverage specialized skills from any location on the planet with an internet connection, without fear of malicious attacks or bad actors infiltrating internal systems, thanks to secure and compliant cloud VDI’s compliance and security barriers and layers.
Medium-sized businesses that close or halt operations due to disasters lose an average of $23,000 per day. (Source: FEMA.gov)
Tehama’s secure and compliant cloud VDI can help your organization with its desktop infrastructure needs, and can help organizations simplify their IT emergency planning. Contact us to learn more.