The dramatic interruption of business processes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed major inadequacies in the disaster recovery / business continuity policies of many organizations, both large and small. Companies are being forced to address working environments across the whole enterprise that mandates physical distance between employees or in many cases, completely remote operations. These scenarios raise many risks, which can and should be mitigated by implementing a robust disaster recovery plan with special considerations for pandemic preparedness.
Most business continuity planning focuses around events like fires, earthquakes, server crashes, cyber attacks, and similar disasters that typically cause only a brief disruption until the disaster passes or is resolved, or operations can be relocated to an unaffected area. IT disruptions as well as natural and man-made disasters frequently impact only a particular geographic area, facility or system. By definition, a pandemic (an epidemic or outbreak of infectious diseases that have the ability to spread rapidly over large areas, including worldwide) affects vast numbers of people and, therefore, organizations. As we have seen, the toll on individuals as well as companies and the economy, can be widespread and devastating.
The unpredictable duration of pandemics requires additional considerations, including preparations for continuity of procedures and protocols that might simply be diverted or delayed under other types of disruptions. Other disasters also often only impact a limited number of individuals or processes. COVID-19 has interrupted business at all levels, with few processes unimpacted. Pandemic planning requires companies to anticipate alternative arrangements and fallbacks for all stages of operations.
Another way in which pandemic planning requires more extensive diligence is that third party vendors, suppliers, and licensors will also be impacted. It is important that businesses adequately assess the preparedness and resiliency of third party vendors upon which they rely. A supplier’s failure can be incredibly disruptive to business and should be anticpated with mitigation efforts.
The most important step to ensuring that a company’s disaster recovery plan is sufficient to address a pandemic is conducting a current state assessment of operations and processes and comparing it to anticipated needs in the event of a long-term disruption arising from an epidemic.
Some key risks include the following:
At the outset of a pandemic, businesses will need to assess the timing and appropriate level of implementation of the disaster recovery plan. Constant monitoring of the progress of the disease and governmental responses will assist management in determining which elements of the disaster recovery plan should be rolled out to mitigate the harm. For example, the geographic development of an outbreak may cause third party suppliers to be impacted earlier than the command centers of the enterprise. A business that is tracking these details will implement workarounds to minimize the harm from such disruptions while simultaneously adjusting its other continuity measures to account for new and changing realities.
As the pandemic unfolds, it is essential that the disaster plan allows for flexibility, so that the unique and unpredictable consequences of the pandemic can be targeted and contained as they arise. Constant testing of disaster scenarios will improve the likelihood that the disaster plan will allow operational continuity in a wide variety of scenarios that may arise during an extended pandemic.
Ensuring business continuity is the primary concern for any disaster recovery plan. The unique problems that arise in connection with a pandemic can be predicted and mitigated with sufficient and targeted planning and preparation.
Foley has developed a comprehensive checklist for developing pandemic language for a disaster recovery / business continuity program. Please contact your Foley attorney to obtain a copy of the checklist.
We have also created a multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional team, which has prepared a wealth of topical client resources and is prepared to help our clients meet the legal and business challenges that the coronavirus outbreak is creating for stakeholders across a range of industries. Click here for Foley’s Coronavirus Resource Center to stay apprised of relevant developments, insights and resources to support your business during this challenging time. To receive this content directly in your inbox, click here and submit the form.