Business Continuity Planning
This section of this industry guide to pandemic planning provides information and ideas to be used by individual restaurant companies to develop business continuity plans to mitigate the potential effects of a pandemic on their company, customers, and employees.
In recent years, hurricanes on the East Coast, fires in western Canada, the ice storm in central Canada, SARS, and 9/11 have all reinforced the importance of contingency planning and business continuity plans. While most large companies have well-developed plans that take into account the impact of highly infectious diseases, many small and mid-size companies do not.
The process of creating and maintaining a business continuity plan will help ensure restaurants have the resources and information they need to deal with a pandemic.
Business continuity planning must be undertaken on a firm-by-firm basis. The degree of risk and the scope of responses will vary by concept, by market and by location. Business continuity planning usually includes the following five components:
Governance defines the structure and key roles within the organization in the event of a pandemic – who makes strategic decisions and who communicates to whom within and outside your organization.
It begins with the identification of a pandemic coordinator and/or team with defined roles and responsibilities for preparedness and response planning. This team must have senior management commitment and support. This may require doing some groundwork to educate management about the risks of a pandemic and the costs and benefits associated with preparing for one. The benefits of pandemic preparedness and general business continuity planning should be highlighted. This information can be obtained from this document or the many Internet resources dedicated to this topic.
Once management commitment is gained, the pandemic preparedness program should be communicated as an organizational program and priority.
The co-ordinator/team must oversee the implementation of all actions that need to be undertaken in preparation for a pandemic and have ownership of the plan and its maintenance. This involves:
- Determining planning objectives
- Assigning responsibility for tasks needed to coordinate the development of the plan
- Creating a planning schedule including deadlines for completion of tasks, reporting and getting approval from management
The team should also develop an emergency chain of command structure so that leadership is well understood, no matter who becomes ill during the pandemic.
Business Impact Analysis
An economic business analysis is a key component of a business continuity plan.
It involves identifying the company's critical services, ranking them and identifying internal and external impacts of disruption. The steps are:
- Undertake a company-wide analysis of “essential” and “non-essential” functions during a pandemic.
- Identify critical functions and services, which would create restaurant vulnerabilities if disrupted.
- Determine minimum acceptable service delivery levels and the maximum period of time that service can be down before severe damage to the organization results.
- Examine employee-related costs of a pandemic such as paid sick leave, meeting special needs of employees.
- Identify the core people required to keep the essential part of the business running.
- Identify the core skills required to keep the business running.
- Identify threshold/tolerance of the loss of customers/sales.
- Identify additional expenses that could be incurred in the case of a pandemic, (i.e. inventory losses, breaches of contracts).
- Factor in possible intangible losses that would result from a pandemic such as the cost of the loss of consumer confidence or investor confidence.
- Use relevant information collected on the potential loss of revenue, time of recovery and severity of impact a disruption would cause to determine minimum service levels and maximum allowable downtimes.
- Identify threshold/tolerance of the loss of staff.
- Identify threshold/tolerance for supply disruptions. Product shortages may occur because of disruptions in transportation systems, border closures or inability of suppliers to meet demands because of their own staff shortages.
- Identify the critical vendors and utilities that could impact ability to function.
- Identify other internal dependencies such as equipment, computer applications, data, vehicles, and support services such as finance, human resources, security, and information technology.
- Identify other external dependencies such as facility management, utilities, communications, transportation, credit card companies, insurance providers, government agencies, legal service, health and safety services.
- Determine potential decrease in demand for your products/services during a pandemic and the impact on your company financials using multiple possible scenarios, (e.g. effect of restriction on mass gatherings).
Plans for Business Continuity
Plans need to be developed to mitigate the threats and risks identified in the business impact analysis, with the goal of ensuring critical services and products are delivered at minimum service levels within tolerable down times. Key components include:
Plans should determine trigger points for activating different stages of the company's response plan. The government will widely publicize any changes in pandemic alert status, which may signify the need to activate the business continuity plan. See Appendix D (PDF) with World Health Organization pandemic phases, sample scenarios with general industry actions at each alert period.
The challenge for foodservice operators during a pandemic will be to reinvent the business so that customers' need for food outside of a public setting can be met. Creative solutions must be developed in advance to keep businesses operational during a pandemic.
- Develop plan to introduce/rapidly scale up take out and home delivery service.
- Consider developing an Internet order system for delivery or customer pick-up.
- Develop a contact and meal distribution system for regular customers.
- Research the potential and develop a plan to use excess capacity to serve the increased demand for health care meals. Consider the issues that will result in the preparation and distribution of meals.
- Develop a relationship with organizations such as Red Cross and determine how restaurants may be able to help them carry out their emergency duties.
- Identify partners who can provide home delivery options/services.
- Develop relationship with taxi cab service.
A temporary but dramatic drop in sales is likely for foodservice companies able to remain operational during a pandemic. The companies best able to survive the crisis will be those with plans in place to address financial shortfalls.
- Develop a plan to maintain or increase borrowing capacity in order to survive the crisis.
- Negotiate a large enough line of credit – well in advance.
- Discuss business interruption service with your insurance broker.
- Develop alternative plans to access emergency funding during pandemic.
- Develop list of cost-cutting measures to be activated at various stages of pandemic.
- Develop a strategy to deal with potential disruptions to the credit/debit card networks.
- Consider potential lawsuits that could result from emergency actions and implement reasonable steps to protect the company from litigation.
Products and Supplies
Transport Canada officials estimate that in the event of a pandemic transportation systems will be down by 30% for six to eight weeks. This will be due to absenteeism, mandated or self-imposed travel restrictions, fuel shortages and other vulnerable links in the supply chain. It is inevitable that there will be product shortages. Advance planning will help operators ensure that essential supplies are available.
- Identify priority products to sustain business.
- Create emergency purchase orders for "core" items that can be executed when appropriate trigger point is invoked.
- To the extent possible, negotiate with vendors to obtain appropriate commitments.
- Develop relaxed product substitution rules such that product continues to flow.
- Develop emergency check-in and receiving procedures to minimize human contact between drivers and receiving personnel.
- Develop emergency delivery procedures to minimize human contact.
- Develop other back up strategies to meet product shortages such as restricting restaurant hours or consolidating restaurant operations.
Employers have responsibility for the health and safety of employees and to ensure those employees' actions or inactions do not cause harm to others. Even if a restaurant can weather the economic impact of a pandemic, employers must also consider the level of risk to employees and their customers of keeping their operation open.
Continuity planning should consider the restaurants' obligations under provincial occupational health and safety regulations. If a restaurant stays open during a pandemic, provincial employment standards legislation will continue to apply.
Employee response to a pandemic will be inconsistent and it is anticipated there will be shortages in some positions and surpluses in others. It is important to forecast and allow for employee absences during a pandemic due to factors such as personal illness, family member illness, community containment measures and quarantines, school and/or business closures, public transportation closures and even employees abandoning their jobs as they perceive the risk as being greater than the compensation.
- Design and develop an employee database that will be needed during the pandemic to track key information about employees and their families.
- Set up a system to monitor and track staff who:
- Are currently ill
- Are suspected to be ill
- Are unexpectedly absent from work
- Have survived and are immune
- Have lost family members
See Appendix C - 2 and 3 for sample contact lists (Tools for Pandemic Planning).
- Identify employees with special needs and incorporate the requirements of such persons into your preparedness plan.
- Set up a process to facilitate/encourage the return of staff once they are better or at the end of a quarantine period.
- Develop an emergency plan for reallocating employees to other functions if possible.
- In preparation for a shift in resources, consider appropriate cross-training.
- Develop a plan for dealing with excess employees and hourly workers who will need special help when laid off.
Employee Policies and Procedures
Some human resource policies and procedures may become obsolete during a pandemic. An emergency set of employee procedures and policies should be developed in advance of a pandemic.
- Establish policies to minimize illness among staff members and to prevent influenza spread at the worksite, e.g. promoting respiratory hygiene/ cough etiquette, prompt exclusion of people with influenza symptoms, guidelines to modify the frequency and type of face-to-face contacts (e.g. hand-shaking) among employees and between employees and customers.
See Appendix C - 4 to 10 (Tools for Pandemic Planning) (PDF) for documents with information on influenza protection measures which include:
- Table with the differences between influenza and a common cold
- Sample personal hygiene notice
- Handwashing procedures and notice
- Tips for staying healthy during a pandemic
- Sample influenza notification
- Establish policies for employees who have been exposed to pandemic influenza, are suspected to be ill, or become ill at the worksite (e.g. infection control response, immediate mandatory sick leave).
See Appendix C - 11 to 13 (Tools for Pandemic Planning) (PDF) for sample procedures for screening and managing sick employees, sample notification for suspected case at work, and sample contact list for people who have been in close proximity to an infected person.
- Set up a process for ensuring that ill employees have completed any required quarantine period and are healthy before allowing them to return to work.
- Establish policies for restricting travel to affected geographic areas, evacuating employees working in or near an affected area when an outbreak begins, and guidance for employees returning from affected areas.
- Establish policies for employee compensation and sick-leave absences unique to a pandemic including time off policy, emergency employee assistance policy, death in family policy, short-term disability policy and policies on when a previously ill person is no longer infectious and can return to work after illness.
- Develop plans specific to drivers and policies to deal with drivers who refuse routes into certain areas.
- Develop a plan to provide appropriate additional security for employees. For example drivers and store personnel could be placed at risk during the pandemic.
Availability of Supplies and Services for Employees
- Determine how many protective materials to stockpile and who should get them.
- Develop a plan to ensure sufficient and accessible infection control supplies, (i.e. masks, protective gloves, hand-hygiene products, cleaning supplies, tissues and receptacles for their disposal).
- Evaluate employee access to and availability of mental health and social services during a pandemic, including corporate, community and faith-based resources, and improve services as needed.
- Ensure availability of medical consultation and advice for emergency response.
- Work with health plan administrators to develop emergency health care procedures.
- Determine accessibility of flu shot clinics. Encourage and track annual influenza vaccination for employees.
Employee Communication and Training
Communication is a key component of a pandemic plan and management's pandemic plan must be communicated clearly to staff. Communication involves anticipating employee fear and anxiety, rumours and misinformation and planning accordingly. It also involves training employees in appropriate response measures.
- Familiarize employees with the pandemic issue well in advance and provide appropriate messaging.
- Develop and disseminate programs and materials covering pandemic fundamentals (e.g. signs and symptoms of influenza, modes of transmission), personal and family protection and response strategies (e.g. hand hygiene, coughing/sneezing etiquette).
See Appendix A (PDF)for Public Health Agency of Canada information sheets entitled:
- What you need to know about pandemic influenza
- Preventing the spread of influenza during a pandemic
- You can play a role in preventing the spread of a pandemic
- Conduct staff training on preparedness initiatives and response plans (practise applicable response measures, e.g. proper fit and wearing of protective equipment).
- Communicate to employees that in a pandemic situation, there is the potential for shifting of duties and that there is the expectation that everyone will pull together through the crisis.
- Employers should also discuss with their staff the possibility of the business closing during the pandemic and the mechanism that will be used to communicate this information. Advance notice of likely impacts will also assist employees in making arrangements in advance.
- In activating your plan, provide clear, timely and pro-active communications to staff, including how your organization is handling the situation.
- Develop a plan for communicating with employees both at work and at home including information for care of ill employees and family members.
- Consider developing an emergency call centre that employees can contact for information and special needs.
- Ensure that communications are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
Consumer behaviour during a pandemic will be influenced by consumer perception of risk and consumer knowledge of how to protect themselves and their families from risk. Consistent messaging from multiple sources, including the private sector, and dialogue on how to deal with the crisis will help to instill consumer trust and bring people together to deal with the challenges.
- Establish an emergency communications plan and revise periodically. The plan should include the identification of key contacts (with back ups), chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and process for tracking and communicating business and employee status.
- Develop emergency communications mechanisms that will be needed during a pandemic.
- Consider the use of e-mail, intranet, dedicated website, hotlines, conference calling, instant messaging, etc. to simplify the task of communicating pandemic status and actions to employees, vendors, suppliers and customers inside and outside the worksite in a consistent and timely way.
- With any noticeable action step, consider the need to educate consumers on why the change is appropriate.
- During pandemic establish a daily process to stay abreast of most recent developments with trusted sources such as CRFA.
- Identify the key contacts/agencies in local government in each municipality who make decisions regarding schools, hospitals, etc.
- Find up-to-date, reliable pandemic information from community public health, emergency management and other sources, and make sustainable links.
- Prepare a media point person.
- Develop a procedure to respond to media calls. Review the procedure with all employees.
- Communicate to non-employees (vendors, etc.) who may be approached by the media that they must not speak on behalf of your company.
- Prepare to take a proactive role in providing the media with good information about the food supply and food safety.
- Promote the development of an industry-wide approach to pandemic (take steps to ensure that any protective steps implemented aren't perceived by consumers to reflect dangers in that particular establishment because competitors are slower to respond to the risk).
- Have the entire plan reviewed by the planning team and approved by management.
- Once approved, print and distribute the plan to all key personnel identified in the plan and their backups.
- Brief staff on the contents of the plan and ensure employees are aware of their individual responsibilities.
- Train employees with direct responsibility for tasks they will be required to perform during a pandemic.
- Regularly review plan to maintain accuracy, relevance and effectiveness.
- Collaborate with insurers, health plans, and major healthcare facilities to share your pandemic plans and understand their capabilities and plans.
- Collaborate with federal provincial, and local public health agencies and/or emergency responders to participate in their planning processes, share your pandemic plans, and understand their capabilities and plans.
- Share best practices with other businesses in your communities, and associations, to improve community response efforts.
- Conduct education sessions to raise awareness about the risk and help people to prepare for a pandemic.
- Develop or access exercises to verify and validate plan. Desk top and training exercises are powerful tools that can be used to practise, educate, motivate and evaluate plans, procedures and technology. Information on planning and conducting an exercise can be obtained from provincial and federal emergency planning departments.
- Assign responsibility for regular meetings to update information to ensure that the plan remains relevant, accurate and useful.
- Develop a plan that addresses how the company recovers after the crisis period is over. Recovery plan should address:
- Psychological stress, low morale and temporary loss of productivity related to the deaths of co-workers, family and friends.
- Loss of institutional knowledge due to possible death of some employees.
- The need to recruit and train replacement workers and to reassign workers.
- Communication with customers and suppliers to let them know about the status of your business and when they can expect services to be completely restored.
- Compiling necessary information to take part in any financial recovery programs.
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