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Coronavirus: Time to Dust Off the Pandemic Preparedness Plan

Coronavirus: Time to Dust Off the Pandemic Preparedness Plan

As of February 11, 2020, the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak has infected 43,143 individuals in 28 countries, including 1018 deaths (only 2 deaths have occurred outside of China). While not yet considered a “pandemic” (a pandemic is defined as “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population”), this new coronavirus is a disease outbreak that’s certainly worth monitoring.

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


Novel Coronavirus – What Is It?

The Coronavirus Pandemic (2019-nCoV) 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.


Who Is Affected?

World Health Organization (W.H.O) has declared a global health emergency because they fear the coronavirus is spreading to countries with weak health systems. Dr. Sylvie Briand, the Director Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness of W.H.O, did come out with a statement saying “Currently we are not in a pandemic, we are at a phase where we have an epidemic of coronavirus with multiple foci, and we will try to extinguish the transmission in each of these [locations].”

China is pursuing action by opening two new hospitals and closing 10 out of 13 border checkpoints. Many countries are preparing coronavirus quarantines to defend themselves against an upcoming epidemic that is currently a pandemic in China.

In the meantime, everyone should take caution when encountering an individual who is sick and should avoid traveling to affected regions, especially Asian countries.


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 are 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 in China, and it is not yet showing signs of slowing down. President Trump has pledged to work with China to coordinate solutions, which will certainly help. 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.


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

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Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Categories: Blog