Don't Wait for Disaster

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"We look at everything from a risk perspective," he says. "We felt that the prudent thing to do was to start planning for this [possible pandemic outbreak]."

Protecting its 9,700 employees and keeping critical businesses functioning in the event of hurricanes or other disasters have always been priorities for Constellation. While the company could have used its existing business continuity plans (BCPs)--which identify critical business processes--as a starting point, a pandemic required additional work.

"This is an attack on your human resources," Cornelius says. "We felt we needed very specific plans."

Together with Constellation's medical and safety departments, his team spent time with experts to understand the threat, educated upper management on the risk, won senior leaders' endorsement for the planning effort and reached out to the company's business units.

In a worst-case scenario, in which a pandemic results in many infections and deaths, companies need to plan for how they'll take care of employees who must come into the facility to perform critical functions, Cornelius says.

"There are certain crucial functions that people have to come into our facilities to perform, like control room operations, electric substation repairs and gas emergency response," he says. "We need to have plans for those people to work. Other folks, we'd have work at home.... We're going to try to protect our people as best we can. So for the people coming in, we need to make sure we have the proper operational plans and supplies."

To that end, Constellation has stocked up on gloves, masks and bacterial cleaners. It is also educating employees on how to prepare at home for emergencies, including a pandemic. Using "lunch-and-learn" seminars and department safety meetings to educate employees has been effective, Cornelius says.

Every company should focus on educating employees about the pandemic threat, says Harold Bingham, business continuity program manager at Monster.com. He's done presentations throughout the online career firm to prepare employees.

"To the extent that your employees are informed, it's a higher likelihood that the panic and fear will be diminished," he says. "That's going to be key."

This was first published in December 2006

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