Ebola Outbreak Highlights Necessity of Having a Global Crisis Management Plan

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By Genevieve Douglas

Sept. 24 — The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is a sobering reminder for employers that they need to have a crisis management plan in place, according to security and risk management professionals.

“It is a shame that it took a tragedy like the Ebola virus to serve as a wake-up call to so many of the industry segments that find themselves in West Africa or in any emerging marketplaces,” Robert Quigley, regional medical director and senior vice president of medical assistance in the Americas for International SOS, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 23.

Crisis management and employee risk management are not solely for dealing with pandemic problems, Nick Doyle, associate manager director for the London-based global risk management company Kroll, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 24.

According to Doyle, HR managers need to ensure that their global employees are safe not just from disease, but also from political unrest, natural disasters or terrorist events. Because these kinds of risks are constantly shifting and changing, crisis management plans should be revised every year or at least every other year to address new threats, he said. “If the plan is outdated, it fails to be helpful to the company,” Doyle said.

Plan Recommendations

Doyle recommended that companies consider using a travel advisory service that can electronically link to a third-party risk management vendor. That way, for example, when a flight is booked to Nigeria, the medical risk that currently exists there would trigger the travel advisory service, which would alert HR to work with the managers and employees to make sure that travel is appropriate, he said.

According to Quigley, a comprehensive risk management plan should include educating personnel on the risk in a specific area, screening for exposure in the event of an infectious disease crisis, providing security for employees and offering case management procedures in the event that someone has been infected.

Employers also need to address whether there should be a mass evacuation plan, and what the trigger should be to put that plan into action, he added.

Most important, according to Quigley, is that pandemic plans have input from disease-specific health care workers, because transmission protocol, cleaning and sanitation protocol and other factors will be different depending on the disease.

Companies also should include common infectious diseases in their crisis management plans, since third-world countries do not have the childhood vaccinations that are common in the U.S., Quigley added.

Quigley said companies should have a social media game plan as well, in the event of a negative incident. “The messaging needs to be prepared to protect the company brand and prevent a PR nightmare,” he said.

Quigley said he has been “very encouraged” by how corporations and industries have reacted to the Ebola crisis.

As a result of the outbreak, Quigley said, employers have used new strategies in their risk management plans that take a proactive approach to protecting employees, as opposed to a reactive approach.

Dealing With Local Nationals

Both Quigley and Doyle emphasized that global companies should not treat local nationals employed in places of unrest or outbreak any differently than the American workers that could be traveling to these locations.

In light of current Ebola outbreaks, Quigley also advised companies to rethink their health benefit packages and revise emergency response plans to include local nationals. “This is where the disease is starting, and local nationals should be protected as much as the company at large is protected,” he said.

Doyle added that it is not good for employee morale if expatriates and local nationals feel they are treated differently. “While there are different solutions to protect them, they should all be dealt with the same duty of care,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com