Ebola – What Business Continuity Professionals Need to Know

You’ve all seen the news – the sometimes (perhaps often) inaccurate and exaggerated presentation of ‘facts’ and race for ratings has started. We’re by no means downplaying the seriousness of the situation – Ebola is extremely serious and should be treated as such. However, causing panic isn’t going to do anyone any good. Rather, a focus on knowledge building, preparedness, and communication with stakeholders, senior management, and employees should be your top priorities right now.

As such, the sole intent of this article is to provide guidance on what actions business continuity professionals should be taking at this point, as well as resources to better understand the situation.

What is Ebola?
“Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).”

For more information visit the CDC’s Ebola website

How is Ebola Transmitted?
“Ebola only spreads when people are sick. A patient must have symptoms to spread the disease to others.”

“Ebola is transmitted through direct contact, meaning that body fluids (blood, saliva, mucus, vomit, urine, or feces) from an infected person (alive or dead) have touched someone’s eyes, nose, or mouth or an open cut, wound, or abrasion.”

For more information read the CDC’s Q&A on Ebola Transmission

What Should Business Continuity Professionals Be Doing?

  1. Understand the Resource Loss and Impact
    First and foremost, and we can’t stress this enough, do not get caught up in the hype about the need for Ebola-specific (threat-specific) planning! Why? Because regardless of cause, the issue is absenteeism.The process that many organizations documented for a pandemic or loss of personnel, in general, is sound and valid for use during this time. Ebola is a communicable disaster. As such, organizations should review, update, and/or revise their pandemic or loss of personnel plans and procedures as necessary.

  2. Sync Up with Senior Management
    Connect with senior management to discuss the situation and the current capability of your organization to communicate with all employees and respond to this type of incident. You, the business continuity professional, are the expert in response and resource requirements. So get in sync with senior management and confirm next steps.

  3. Monitor the Situation
    Implement a surveillance process and monitor communications from the CDC, as well as your state and local health departments. Media, in general, is not the appropriate source.

  4. Review Remote Work Capability
    Review your limitations regarding remote work capability (equipment, information, and connectivity via VPN/VDI). Focus, first, on the work from home capabilities of your most critical personnel and make adjustments and investments as necessary. As always, consider documenting processes and ensuring adequate cross-training.

  5. Set-up Protocol
    Consult with facilities regarding the ability to sanitize workspaces consistent with CDC protocols, and be prepared to implement this process if there is a direct exposure or you become aware of an employee, contractor, or visitor that was exposed or becomes ill.

  6. Review Human Resource Policies
    Be prepared regarding payroll continuation decision-making for those who are put on leave or become ill. Your payroll policy should not drive sick people to come to work.

  7. Raise Awareness and Communicate
    There are a couple of key elements here, but the key is to communicate the right information at the right time. Many organizations are trying to hold off on communicating with their employees, but if your organization has operations in a location with confirmed or probable cases, you need to begin communicating given the possible exposure and the media coverage. Learn more about the key message points in the next section.

Key Message Points

  1. Communicate a summary of the symptoms, how the disease spreads, the incubation period, and personal protection measures. Information helps control fear!The CDC website is the best source for Ebola-related information; however, the overall message should be to “keep calm” given how the disease spreads.
  2. Continue to emphasize that no one should come to work sick – with any illness. Ensure that you communicate any updates to Human Resources policies (e.g. leave/time off, payroll, return to work), and reinforce that employees won’t be penalized for staying home sick if they are displaying symptoms.More than likely, a main concern here is related to employees possibly taking advantage of these temporary policies. That’s fair, but, making the decision to ask any sick employee to stay home now (even if some take advantage) is far less expensive in the long-run than forcing a potentially infected person to come to work due to fear of repercussions for staying home. Naturally, for those away from work due to illness, the employee should be seeking medical attention, so validating medical treatment is one way to minimize possible abuse.
  3. Communicate to employees that they should immediately escalate to Human Resources or their manager if anyone has indicated that they may have come into contact with an infected individual, and have a process in place to react appropriately.

As with any health-related event, information will change as we learn more. So, please check back, as we’ll continue to post situation updates and guidance for business continuity professionals as appropriate.

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Brian Zawada & Courtney Bowers
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting


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