by Matt Barkett

January 24, 2020

Avian flu. SARS. Coronavirus. It seems that every few years there’s something nasty traveling on airplanes from China that threatens us all. Dire warnings are issued, stock markets tremble and surgical masks are donned by thousands as they brave the not-so-friendly skies.

So what to do? My college age son tells me, “Don’t go to China.” Good point. But what about those of us that have to travel for business to keep close ties with far-flung Asian operations so critical to the global economy? There’s some precautions to take, both for those of us who have to travel and those of us responsible for keeping our employees safe.

  1. Monitor the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) web site. This is the definitive resource for all things pandemic, epidemic or just plain hygienic. They have specific information on the coronavirus on the front page and a full section on travel advisories with lots of tips of what to do, what not to do and where to avoid. As of now, this “novel” coronavirus is not yet designated a Global Health Emergency by the CDC. If that changes, the best place to look is on that web site.
  2. Know where your people are. Following 9/11, most organizations developed the ability to closely track where their people are traveling at all times. However, those systems aren’t typically connected with business planning processes. If your company has operations in China and you have a sales conference coming up there, it’s probably a good idea to revisit those plans so everyone has the opportunity to make changes if it becomes necessary.
  3. Have an infectious disease communications contingency plan. It doesn’t have to be a pandemic to be scary. Things like Legionnaire’s Disease can pop up in a contaminated water supply and cripple a company’s ability to operate while cleaning operations are conducted and employees are screened. How will you communicate with employees, regulators, local government, media and others during such an event? Don’t wait to find out until after an outbreak comes.

When specific threats arise, managers and employees will want to be reassured and know what, if anything, they need to do to be safe. Consider sending bulletins that provide the latest information and don’t hesitate to make changes in travel policy when the CDC says so. Catching the common cold on a jaunt to China may end up being a whole lot more than that.

Want to talk more about communications contingency planning for key risk areas in your organization? Email me today.