A COVID-19 outbreak could pose a significant threat to how your agency operates, both short- and long-term. Because of the heightened world-wide awareness and still-uncertain methods of transmission of this version of coronavirus, it may be time to update your emergency preparedness plans for operations and staffing concerns. Covid-19 continues to be the subject of ongoing investigation and the situation is rapidly evolving. This checklist will help you update your existing plan or get you started on developing one.
Review your existing preparedness plan to determine if it is up to date and addresses outbreaks. Make adjustments as needed for operations, staffing and communications.
Senior management should meet immediately to discuss the impacts on critical operations if an outbreak becomes reality.
- Identify your preparedness coordinator/team. Define their roles and responsibilities for preparedness and response planning. Who is responsible for making decisions and sharing information with whom about what? This includes public statements and the press.
- Identify critical services or operations. What are your critical services and inputs? What can only be performed on-site and in person? What can be provided remotely (e.g., telephone, videoconference, webinar)? What services or operations are not critical and could be suspended or rescheduled for the short-term?
- Coordinate with other agencies in your area. Who provides complementary services? Can you share staff if necessary? How will you coordinate services in your community?
- Contact your critical supply chain vendors. Discuss their plans for dealing with potential disruption (e.g., food for meal programs) and consider stocking up on commonly used items (e.g., paper products, hand sanitizer) within reason.
- Lines of communication. Determine alternative methods of communication between management, staff and your stakeholders should there be an issue with phone, internet, or delivery systems due to their being disrupted by absenteeism.
- Information technology. Discuss disaster planning with your IT team and IT support vendor and get a very clear understanding of what they can and can’t do to support your basic IT needs in the event of a pandemic.
Ensure that employees get regular updates from management on what your agency is doing to prepare for a potential pandemic. Update your cross-training files for who can perform what jobs. Tap resources from reliable sources like the Center for Disease Control, your agency’s professional associations and local health services.
- Ensure that sick employees don’t come to work. Although this can have an impact on your staffing levels and may be seen by some as license to take advantage of time off from work, transmission of any type of infectious disease at work could have the same impact or be even worse. Be prepared for absenteeism and possibly relaxing your sick time policies for a period of time. This may include employees caring for ill family members too.
- Encourage hand washing and covering coughs. Have hygiene supplies (e.g., hand sanitizer, tissues, full soap dispensers and related) on hand. Posters are readily available on cough/sneeze etiquette. Print several and place them around wherever people congregate.
- Look at cross-training for critical jobs. Ensure every role at your agency has at least one or two others who could perform the job if necessary. Back-up plans are critical – especially for payroll and employee benefits.
- Consider ancillary workforce. Do you have access to contractors? Retirees? What jobs could they do? Have job titles and job descriptions determined. Contact them to ensure you know if they may be available and at what cost.
- Discuss work-related travel plans with employees. Who is traveling and where for work? Check with the CDC before restricting or allowing anyone to travel to areas that may be hot-spots at the time.
- What happens if an employee does have COVID-19? Be sensitive to employee concerns but also to overreacting and triggering potentially discriminatory behaviors by co-workers. Establish protocols for anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
- Healthcare and short-term disability benefits. Check with healthcare providers in your area on what they are doing. Contact your insurance provider on what qualifies as a disability claim for infectious diseases. If you don’t offer short-term disability benefits, consider it. An alternative is to offer voluntary critical illness coverage.
This is a far-reaching and critical part of any successful response to a difficult situation and encompasses your agency’s employees, customers, communities, other stakeholders, other agencies and the media.
- Designate a spokesperson and have a backup. Who will be the official disseminator of information on your planning and responses to what could be rapidly changing circumstances? You may need more than one designate for informing those who use or need access to your services, sharing internal communications, for talking with the press, for discussing with other agencies and local health officials.
- Frequency of communication. Trust starts here. It’s hard to find the right balance in a crisis. You want to keep your people informed, but you don’t want to feed panic by overcommunicating. Make sure you communications plan is flexible so you can scale it to your needs, especially if someone on your team becomes ill.
- Issue information and general illness prevention. With increasing media coverage and worldwide concerns, encourage and outline general illness prevention guidelines and post.
- Tap into reliable information resources. Rely on proven resources. The Center for Disease Control is excellent source of information. Local health departments are another source of reliable information.