It only takes a microorganism such as the pneumonia-like coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, to wreak havoc in other parts of the world. The spread of the coronavirus outside China has severely depressed travel and tourism and triggered a selloff in global financial markets.
Coronavirus belongs to the same group of viruses as the common cold as well as, notably, severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS — and Middle East respiratory syndrome — MERS. The first human coronavirus case was reported in Wuhan, on Dec. 31, 2019.
In today’s world economy, companies must plan for such contagions. The 2003 SARS outbreak in southern China that killed nearly 800 people while infecting 8,000 more caught most companies off guard and exposed their lack of crisis preparedness.
Fast forward to 2020, and in just a few weeks coronavirus already has sickened more than 6,000 people in China and a handful of other countries and killed nearly 150.
Some experts fear the health and financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak will mirror the SARS outbreak before being contained. The financial impact of SARS exceeded $40 billion.
As Chinese authorities continue to take drastic steps to contain the Wuhan coronavirus, U.S. companies with operations in China are responding. Disney closed its $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort theme park. McDonald’s suspended operations of several dozen restaurants across five cities in Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak. Starbucks temporarily shuttered many of its locations in China.
It’s just a matter of time before coronavirus visits the United States. Now is the time to review your company’s crisis and emergency procedures to ensure your leaders and team members are prepared to deal with a coronavirus outbreak here. What are your organization’s vulnerabilities? How would you protect the health of your employees and clients? Have you postulated the potential financial impact on your business?
Putting a plan in place and training everyone in your organization are the first steps toward effective crisis management.
A robust crisis management plan should include these basic components:
- Active monitoring of catastrophic events, including widespread illness outbreaks
- Empowerment of key functional areas to make swift decisions to mitigate potential disruption of business as usual
- An established and up-to-date chain of command and communications tree
- Checklists that address emergency procedures
- A frequent review of the crisis management plan
- Routine training and education at all levels
- Recovery steps as needed
A commitment to crisis management is a small investment when considering the far-reaching impact of a catastrophic event such as coronavirus outbreak. Could your organization survive the potential business disruptions, deaths and injuries, reputation damage and lawsuits?
David Trumble is principal of Integrated Crisis Management Solutions, an organization composed of security operatives and communications professionals offering risk assessments, streamlined emergency protocols, management training, customer/media relations and recovery programs.