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Building a Lasting Emergency Response Task-Force in Light of COVID-19

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Brief

              By now, we are all well aware of the COVID-19 virus and its ramifications across individuals, businesses and society. We would like to stress the importance of remaining calm and manage your and your team’s anxiety levels at a time like this. Below are some quality takes from our colleagues at World Economic Forum (WEF) and Ricardo Vargas where one talks about ‘Embracing the New Age of Materiality’ and the other provides an ‘Exposure Assessment COVID-19’

              COVID-19 has impacted organizations in several ways from supply chain ramifications to workforce disruptions. In addition to remaining aware of the situation, its implications, and upholding composure, some organizations with a sizeable workforce can benefit from creating an Emergency Response Task-Force that will work in an agile manner within the organization to tackle challenges that come with COVID-19 and future emergency response matters. In most cases, an Emergency Response task-force should comprise of a senior executive sponsor, project coordinator, business analyst, emergency response specialist (in COVID’s case, health & safety expertise is essential) and representatives from all major departments such as human resources, supply chain, finance, technology and client-facing roles such as marketing and sales.

Task Force

              Senior Executive Sponsor – Tasked with providing strategic insight, considering the implications and impacts of the COVID-19 and other emergency response related issues to the business, signing off on the Emergency Response task-force recommendations and providing updates to the C-Suite and the board.

              Project Coordinator/ Manager – Plans, manages and coordinates the various aspects surrounding the implementation of projects associated with the Emergency Response task-force.

              Business Analyst – Provides business analysis support to the Emergency Response task-force to ensure business continuity while also potentially supporting emergency response-related work to overburdened departments.

              Emergency Response Specialist and/ or Health & Safety (COVID-19) professional– Helps organizations measure the risks, exposure, and impact of emergency related matters based on research, statistics, medical evidence, and scientific theory.

Departmental Representative Responsibilities

Human Resources Representative

              At the Human Resources side, it is important to create an environment with clear policies and structures to support the challenges that managers, employees and contractors are bound to have. Some basic areas that should be considered are:

  • Re-assess required travels and delay, where possible, non-essential travels to areas of risk.
  • Study work from home policies and how new requirements in lieu of recent developments impact the policy and if it needs to be updated or amended. A new work from home policy for emergency situations may also be required as some considerations taken in an emergency situation should not translate into every day work practices.
  • In collaboration with the facilities manager, suggestions related to spacing out seats and time allocation for cafeterias and restaurants should be addressed.
  • In collaboration with the facilities manager, establish an enhanced hygiene procedure that follows established governmental guidelines to sterilize the work environment at a higher frequency.
  • Health and safety reminder at the beginning of a meeting. In some industries, safety tips on various topics are the standard way to start a meeting and, perhaps now, is a good time to borrow such practices to share knowledge on safety and assist individuals to remain aware of the situation. Organizations should consider following similar protocols with basic tips that have been advised by health officials. All of these practices can assist organizations in creating a culture of health & safety and comradery, where one individual look after the other.

Supply Chain Representative

              Supply Chain – As part of the supply chain team involved with the emergency response task force, work will revolve around coordinating actions, leveraging technical expertise, providing recommendations, remediating supply chain issues, among other responsibilities. It is important that the supply chain representative, as well as any other representative, follow and implements the solutions proposed by the task-force. Some areas to consider are:

  • Supply network exposure to highly affected areas and future projected affected areas. It is important to consider remediation measures to reduce network exposure and chances of spillover effect throughout the network.
  • Plan of action to quickly restart production at different levels of capacity to satisfy customer needs while considering the recovery speed of suppliers and depleted inventory levels.
  • Diversify the supply chain to decrease current and future risks in an economically feasible manner while also considering product quality and customer expectations.
  • Continuously assess changes to the supply network, current and predicted geopolitical considerations that might impact the network.
  • Revamp current technological capabilities to build long-term resilience.

Finance Representative

Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, banks have revamped their financial stress testing to further analyze the potential impact of an economic downturn to the organization (e.g. value at risk, probability of default, exposure of default, advanced measurement approach). This allows them to build contingency plans and become more resilient in difficult times. It is important to note that although your organization may be financially sound, a supplier bankruptcy for example, may expose your supply chain. In this case, the finance department within the organization must expand its stress testing to account for the information provided by the task-force, study how current mitigative and preventative actions will affect the company, analyse and implement steps needed to optimize the organization’s financial position.

Technology Representative

              The goal of the technology department representative in this area is to ensure that software, hardware, tech professionals and employees are well-equipped to weather the challenges that an emergency crisis may have from a technological stand-point.

  • Create scenario analysis by determining risk factors and building contingency plans to support technological asset needs and personnel support within the organization.
  • Assess cybersecurity threats related to the emergency and enhance the cyber-awareness program as, for example, individuals migrate from onsite work to remote work.
  • Implement new technology or update existing ones to support a smoother transition towards a digital workforce.

Client Facing Representative (Sales, Marketing & Business Development)

              Representatives from client facing operations need to work with customers to facilitate, bring awareness, advise and tackle the challenges and opportunities that exist given of the even of a crises. It is important to consider building and/ or consolidating partnerships and corporate clientele in such situations as well. Considerations may have different facets depending on the business, a few examples are:

  • Establishing a system that clarifies delays or disruptions of goods & services.
  • Informing customers and partners of actions being taken by the organization to support customers, employees, and the community.
  • Reassess advertisement and customer programs to conform to the current and expected realities of the market.
  • Monitor client issues related to the factors at play and build contingency plans associated with client relationship building and interactions. For example, lower client facing interactions and move the relationship building to a remote format.

Key Threat Assessment Factors

           Organizations often have a barrage of information and challenges that it needs to face throughout its life. To facilitate the dissemination of emergency related factors, GPetrium compiled a list of 7 major ones that should always be in the minds of an Emergency Response Task-Force:

  • Competitiveness: Actions (or lack thereof) taken by competitors in relation to the emergency that may enhance or hinder competitiveness. During a regional or global crisis, the actions taken (or not taken) by a company and its competitors have an impact on customer perception.
  • Human: Death, illness, injury, erratic and illegal behavior that may cause organizational loss. A key employee that falls under any of the above attributes can lead to large disruptions and even business closure. Understanding what, when, how, and where these challenges occur might help the organization develop mitigating tactics can help alleviate the risk.
  • Financial: Investment failures, stock market oscillation, interest rate changes, (de)inflation spikes, cashflow crunch should always be considerations of financial staff. A business may be theoretically sound, but if, for example, the market, or investors, pull their money out of the organization, it may lead to large losses and even bankruptcies.
  • Project/ Program: Negative impact to cost, time, scope and quality in relation to projects or programs. For example, as key human assets may be impacted by COVID-19, projects may be further disrupted and will most likely have timeline of key milestones moved. Other factors such as budget, scope and quality can also be impacted.
  • Processes: there is the potential that system may fail to perform as expected due to a lack of internal systems and controls. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, many organizations’ workforces had to start working remotely and companies that have failed to build a work-from-home policy, culture, etc. will find it harder to succeed in the new environment.
  • Reputational: risk of loss of organizational or brand reputation by customers, employees and suppliers. A perceived price gouge by a customer or a sleight by an employee may have short-term gains with medium to long-term reputational damage.
  • Political: Government, state or regional changes that impact an organization’s ability to operate should be considered. For example, government subsidies may support an industry or a new regulation can increase the cost of doing business.

Emergency Response Task Force in Calmer Periods

              For every trial and tribulation, there is always a period of calmness that precedes and sometimes succeeds such state. It is important to use such periods, where networks and infrastructure are not in stress, to prepare for future crisis. To alleviate the resource constraint of maintaining an emergency response task force at all times, organizations need to consider some areas:

  • Evaluate emergency cycles within the company, industry and market. Health & safety risks are more common in the construction industry while emergency responders may be more at risk of mental health.
  • Determine the cost and benefits of inhouse and external task forces. There are specialized organizations that can take on some of the emergency responses related duties, helping the organization keep focused on the areas that matter. At the same time, adding external players can bring in another set of challenges.
  • Determine what should fall under the task force jurisdiction and what can or is already being done elsewhere. Having multiple teams working in the same issue at the same time is not always the best resource management.
  • Build the processes and program structure to support a quick task force assembly. Remember that most emergencies wait for no one.
  • Consider downsizing the task force in calmer times and upsizing it in challenging times. A response to COVID-19 may require a more robust task force, specially if the organization waited until the last minute to take action.
  • Build a roster of internal resources that can be tapped into when an emergency occurs. Many organizations have employees with some, or a vast emergency response experience, that may be tapped into at times of need.
  • Build a framework to determine what is worth spending time and resource assessing and mitigating and what should be left out of the scope of the Emergency Task-Force.

              It is a lot harder to propel an initiative from scratch, than to have some if not all of the pieces of the cog in place when major emergencies occur. An organization’s long-term success is directly tied to its ability to mitigate risks and to weather the storm in times of difficulties. Therefore, building and having the right capabilities in hand can make or break a business.

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