Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Helpful advice on Ebola for business continuity professionals

Ebola is the big news story of the moment, all the media are covering it and they seem to be competing with each other to raise the fear level. ‘Out of control’, ‘deadly’, ‘terror’, all those words appear in even the more restrained media publications.

Many of us in the business continuity field will have had someone ask what planning we should do; hopefully this article will help you with that and also give you ammunition to combat some of the media excesses!

First some facts:

  • Ebola is not new, it was first discovered in 1976, the origin is thought to be fruit bats or other bush meat
  • It does have a high mortality rate (always quoted as 90%) but if caught and treated early this can be more like 30%
  • It is not as easily spread as diseases like flu which we all knew so much about during the pandemic. It is only passed through contact with bodily fluids. It is NOT passed by any airborne route such as coughing or sneezing.

As a business continuity expert what should you do? Well the first thing is don’t panic! Our role should always be to provide calm and unemotional advice and not help in any way to build up the fear factor.

How your organisation will be affected will depend on how much contact it has with the West African states which are the seat of the virus. If you have no contact then at the moment there is little you need to do other than gather some background information which you can do using the links I provide below. You could add a short section to your Pandemic Plan although Ebola and flu are not related, but many non-BC people will tie them together so it may be easier to go with that in terms of documentation!

If your organisation does have contact with the countries involved in the outbreak then obviously more action is needed.

The first step is to have clear guidance for staff travelling to the region or for staff based there.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) say there is no need for travel restrictions as the risk is very low due to the method of transmission.

They give some good pieces of advice:

  • Travellers should avoid all contact with infected patients.
  • Anyone who has stayed in areas where cases were recently reported should be aware of the symptoms of infection and seek medical attention at the first sign of illness.
  • The disease is NOT resistant to soap and water so good personal hygiene is important.

If you have staff based in any of the affected countries then sensible advice to issue includes:

  • Increased personal hygiene
  • Advise anyone who may have been in contact with an infected person to stay away from the office for up to 21 days which is the maximum infectious period
  • Avoid bush meat as it is a potential source of infection
  • Avoid contact with anyone suspected of having (or having died from) the disease.

The symptoms of Ebola in the very early stages are flu like but can be summarised as a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat are typical signs and symptoms. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

So in summary for most BC people we should do what we always do, gather facts (not speculation!), understand the risk and have a clear plan of what to do if Ebola affects your organisation.
If you are connected to the Region in any way then prepare plans and advice based on reputable sources such as the WHO.

And above all don’t let the media be the driver for how your organisation reacts!

David Hutcheson is Managing Director of Glen Abbot a BC and Security consultancy. David was CIR Industry Personality of the Year in 2010 for his work on pandemics. He is currently advisor to a number of organisations on Ebola including some based in West Africa. His blog can be found here.

Here are some useful links you may wish to keep:

World Health Organisation (WHO) - FAQs on Ebola virus disease
Public Health England's risk assessment of Ebola outbreak in West Africa

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