Does Your Business Have a Plan in the Event of a Pandemic?

Imagine what your company would be like if fifty percent of your employees – or more – fell ill at the same time. Would you be able to continue operating?

What about after the symptoms have passed and they are capable of working, only they are instructed to stay home as is often the case with the H1N1 virus – would they then be able to be productive?

With today’s technology, the effects of a pandemic or other threat to the continuity of your business can be mitigated by putting into practice such things as alternate workplaces, work from home abilities, and notification callouts. But it all takes planning so that if a threat were to become a reality, your business is prepared.

That type of planning is what Ian McLaws does. He is the consultant who was brought in by Jazz Air LP (doing business throughout North America as Air Canada Jazz) to help implement their Business Continuity Plan. On June 16, Jazz did a thorough 24-hour test of their plan using their Alternate Systems Operations Control Centre in Burnside, and it went without a hitch.

McLaws explains that a Business Continuity Plan, or BCP, is designed to enable a business to continue operating while recovering from a disaster and to resume normal operations. It involves planning for the eventuality of a disaster event so that essential business functions such as Information Technology can continue operating.

McLaws’ main role at Jazz was to manage the disaster recovery plan part of it, or DRP, which outlines the steps necessary to restore the Information Technology environment to its normal state.

The first steps towards establishing a BCP include such things as evaluating the current state of preparedness, identifying threats, identifying consequences of failures, and determining best-fit strategies.

After these basic steps have taken place, the plan is then developed , including the establishment of a business continuity/disaster recovery team, assigning roles and responsibilities, and writing a manual that describes what gets done when.

If a business relies on a data centre being operational, an alternate site should exist. Alternate sites can range from “cold sites”, where you have to install equipment in case of need, to “hot sites”, such as at Jazz, that are fully operational and waiting for the organization to switch over. Rigid security has to be maintained while operating in an alternate environment the same as it does in the normal state of operations.

Once developed, the BCP goes through a series of tests, with revisions made to the plan based on what was learned with each test. Only through regular testing can a company be assured that their BCP remains viable and up-to-date.

Finally, responsibility is assigned for maintenance of the plan, which involves regular updates and ongoing awareness and training of personnel.

You can see how these plans can be quite involved, and they can take a long time to prepare. McLaws tells us that Jazz’s BCP process took about two years and involved dozens of personnel from numerous business units.

For Jazz Air LP, it was all worth it in the end. “As the second largest airline in Canada, operating in excess of 880 flights daily, the integrity of our operation is vital to our customers,” said Mike MacKinnon, Director, Systems Operations Control at Jazz. “We have successfully built the necessary system redundancies that will support our operation in the event of a major disruption at our Systems Operations Control Centre in Halifax.”

“The nature of our business requires that we operate from a very solid foundation and always place safety as our top priority,” he added.

Smaller businesses should also have a BCP. It does not have to be as elaborate as Jazz’s, but don’t think you have a BCP just because you are keeping off-site backup tapes or are using a hosted service. Also, BCP’s are not just about Information Technology; they involve all business functions, such as power, telephone service, and communications callouts.

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