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Coronavirus: Time to Dust Off the Pandemic Preparedness Plan

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially categorized Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic, meaning it is “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.” As of March 23, 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak has infected over 374,000 individuals in over 168 countries/regions, including over 16,000 deaths.*

It seems like it’s been a while since we’ve talked about pandemic outbreaks on a global scale (which is a good thing!). Here are some of the more recent “pandemics”:

  • 2015-2016: Zika virus
  • 2012: MERS coronavirus
  • 2009: H1N1 (swine flu – first true global pandemic in 40 years)
  • 2003-2008: H5N1 (avian flu)
  • 2002-2004: SARS coronavirus

The FFIEC issued an Interagency Statement on Pandemic Planning in March of 2006, requiring financial institutions to “address pandemics and provide for a preventative program” regarding pandemic outbreaks. For the last 10 or so years, however, financial institutions have been reviewing, updating, and testing their Pandemic Preparedness Plans less and less.

With the introduction of the Novel Coronavirus, however, it’s a good idea to break that Pandemic Preparedness Plan out and update that document for 2020 going forward.


COVID-19 – What Is It?

The Novel Coronavirus Pandemic was first identified in December of 2019 in Wuhan, China. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, that the human immune system can typically defend itself against. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone at some point gets infected with a coronavirus, with symptoms usually ranging from mild to moderate.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning these viruses can be transmitted between animals and people.  Previous investigations found that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) was transmitted from civet cats to humans and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.


Pandemic Preparedness Planning

Preparing for a pandemic does not necessarily mean staying quarantined in your house and having no contact with people. In this case, it means protecting yourself, your organization, and the country you are living in. For example, the United States and the United Kingdom began screening travelers coming from China and quarantining those with potential infections.

These are a few actions that you can take to prevent the virus from spreading:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

If you have not already, your institution should also begin looking into developing or updating your short-term and long-term Pandemic Preparedness Plans. TRACTM customers who have access to the BCP module can grab a template from the tool as a starting point, while W.H.O also has a global influenza preparedness plan that can be used for guidance for non-TRAC customers.

If you already have a Pandemic Preparedness Plan but have had it on your shelf since the 2006 avian flu scare, now might be an opportune time to dust it off and begin having conversations at your institution around what actions you and the organization need to begin taking to address this potential threat. While these actions will certainly vary from institution to institution, there are many things that you might consider doing at this time, some of which might include:

  • Monitor the situation. Your plan should indicate what the organization will be doing depending on what stage the outbreak is in; monitoring is going to be critical in making sure you are responding appropriately and in a timely manner.
  • Training. If you have not done so recently, now is a great time to train employees on your Pandemic Preparedness Plan and their roles and responsibilities should a pandemic get closer to your region.
  • Remote working and reduced staff. Understand your remote working capabilities and ensure that all employees that could potentially need remote working access have those capabilities. If there are any special technology considerations, such as roaming Active Directory profiles, to allow employees to work at different branch locations, make sure those configurations are current and functional.
  • Review your cross-training. Cross-training is one of the most effective controls when dealing with personnel reduction. Ensure cross-training has been completed to a satisfactory degree and that employees are comfortable with their alternative responsibilities. If management is reluctant to put much focus on a low-probability threat like a pandemic, cross-training is a great area to focus on, since good such training can be an effective control for addressing more than just a pandemic scenario.
  • Check your supplies. If your plan requires supplies such as hand sanitizer, facial tissues, or other personal protective equipment, make sure you have them on hand (and they aren’t expired).
  • Ensure your plan is adequate. Remember, your Pandemic Preparedness Plan is built with the primary focus of protecting your employees. Additional procedures should be well-outlined to help reduce the impact of such an event on those employees.

The coronavirus outbreak continues to climb worldwide, and it is not yet showing signs of slowing down. Follow the safety measures stated above and be cautious around sick individuals.

There’s no better time to review and update your Pandemic Preparedness Plan than now. Alternatively, if your institution does not have a Pandemic Preparedness Plan in place, now’s the time to get started.


* Updated to include recent statistics and information.

Written by: Edin Y Cardona and Jon Waldman
SBS CyberSecurity, LLC

SBS Resources: 

  • {Toolkit} Pandemic Preparedness: This toolkit will allow your organization to have confidence in your ability to handle a pandemic situation. The toolkit includes Pandemic Preparedness Policy, Pandemic Preparedness Plan, Pandemic Preparedness Tabletop – Coronavirus, Pandemic Preparedness Regulatory Checklist, Pandemic Preparedness Vendor Management Letter, Pandemic Preparedness Testing Questions, ISP (Information Security Program) Diagram, Pandemic Preparedness Roadmap, and more. Learn more
  • {Solution} TRAC: TRAC™ is our integrated cybersecurity risk management solution developed to simplify cybersecurity risk management and assist users with tackling their cybersecurity challenges with ease. It automates the tedious risk assessment process and produces customized results that align with regulation, best practices, and your strategic goals. Save days or even weeks’ worth of time and increase productivity with the most predefined, industry-specific templates and data of any tool on the market. Learn More


Related Certifications:

Join our growing community of financial service professionals showing their commitment to strong cybersecurity with a cyber-specific certification through the SBS Institute. Click here to view a full list of certifications.

Certified Banking Business Continuity Professional   

Hacker Hour webinars are a series of free webinars hosted by SBS CyberSecurity. Unlike paid webinars, Hacker Hours are aimed to meet on a monthly basis to discuss cybersecurity issues and trends in an open format. Attendees are encouraged to join the conversation and get their questions answered. SBS will also offer products and services to help financial institutions with these specific issues.

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Categories: Blog