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"Global Approach, Local Partnerships": Private-Sector Pandemic Flu Business Continuity Planning

Posted on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

By Malick Diara, with contributions from Susan Ngunjiri, and Candace McAlester. ExxonMobil Corp. and Damola Adesakin, Fircroft
What’s the private sector got to do with pandemics?

A modern-day occurrence of an influenza pandemic at the scale of the 1918 (H1N1) episode would not only impact communities around the world, but also all local, national and global economies [1]. There is a need to galvanize public, private, for-profit and nonprofit proprietorships for a comprehensive preparedness and response strategy.

Working in silos, the usual preparedness and response players may not realize the level of essential resources that the private sector can bring to the table beyond check writing. Pivotal response items from the private sector can include medicines, food and water, as well as services related to health care, logistics, communication, energy and banking.

It is critical to adequately engage all stakeholders at the operational and executive levels while the public and/or international institutions consciously prepare for the next pandemic or other large-scale outbreaks. The objective of such engagement is to ensure the continued availability and supply of all crucial goods and services while consolidating the existing public- and private-sector infrastructures that could be at risk of disruption during a pandemic [2]. This commitment will help establish a more effective preparedness and response approach, with synergic efforts incorporating private-sector capabilities in addressing identified gaps of common interests [3].

Enablers for multisectoral health synergies

The International Health Regulations issued by the World Health Organization provide an overall health policy context and present the needs for in-country implementation support by multiple stakeholders [4]. The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) [5] and the Global Health Security Strategy (GHSS) [6] frameworks can constitute the guiding principles for collaborative efforts among key stakeholders in areas related to:
  • The prevention and reduction of the likelihood of outbreaks.
  • Early detection of threats.
  • A rapid and effective response using multisectorial, international coordination and communication.
Conducted by local health authorities and international health institutions, a country’s joint external evaluation (JEE) [7] can serve as the basis for identifying local needs with potential public and private efforts in developing comprehensive solutions. It is possible to incorporate collaborative efforts into the health scenarios of business continuity plans [8]. Managed by the emergency preparedness and response group of most well-established national and international corporations, these plans can have local, regional and global scales. Stakeholders at any level – local, regional or global – must be educated about the JEE process and the GHSA framework for collaborative and effective private-sector business continuity planning.

Lessons learned from an oil and gas setting
Using ExxonMobil’s experience on business continuity planning for pandemic flu, MERS Corona Virus, Ebola and Zika, we recommend these tasks, organized into five main areas, when partnering with the public sector [8-12]:
  • Emergency preparedness.
    • ​​Obtain disease surveillance information to trigger preparedness and response phases simplified into three levels: preparedness, response and hot standby for outbreaks.
    • Create communication channels with local health systems for outbreak response, including contact tracing, quarantine requirements and case management.
  • Site entry controls and screening.
    • Determine the effectiveness of measures for different types of sites in consultation with public health experts and relevant authorities.
    • Identify devices and providers certified by health authorities to conduct screening measures for at-risk operation sites, including precautions for travelers and visitors to and from disease risk areas.
  • Education and awareness.
    • Adopt key health messages using scientific evidence, case reporting and recommended measures promoted by local and international public health experts for tailored communications.
    • Partner with external experts to conduct, as appropriate, communication and education sessions with company medical teams, providers, general employee populations and management teams.
  • Prevention and case management.
    • Identify local health authority prevention approaches and mechanisms for vaccines and drugs that can be provided to employees, in addition to personal and community measures.
    • Identify where diagnostic and treatment capabilities exist locally and work with health authorities and partners to enable their effective use by employees, families and surrounding communities.
  • External interfaces for community investments.
    • Engage and support health authority and partner coordination for adequate internal and external outbreak or pandemic preparedness and response measures.
    • Engage local health authorities and other oil and gas companies for synergic efforts and consistent workplace measures across the sector, with joint investments in communities.

Applying key lessons learned from past experiences with pandemic flu business continuity planning and other potentially large outbreaks [8-13], we advise:
  • Engaging external experts for adequate workplace disease prevention and control.
  • Considering local health system capabilities and support when developing worksite plans.
  • Using internal and external operational systems to coordinate workplace disease programs.
  • Engaging at all levels with business executives for effective measures.
  • Issuing workforce communications for adequate preparedness and response.
  • Conducting drills, which are the best way to verify preparedness.

While gaps remain regarding adequate preparedness across sectors for the next pandemic flu [14] or other large-scale outbreaks, synergic efforts between the public and private sectors in addition to communities are essential. Both public- and private-sector health actors should further promote such an approach through public health forums in conjunction with local or global health organizations, as well as through other avenues where the private sector discusses its health, safety and environmental programs [15-18].

  1. Garrett, Thomas A. “Economic Effects of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic: Implications for a Modern-Day Pandemic.” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, November 2007.
  2. Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at The Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M. “Community Resilience, Centralized Leadership & Multi-Sectoral Collaboration in Pandemic Preparedness” third annual white paper, May 2019.
  3. Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense. “The Cost of Resilience: Impact of Large-Scale Biological Events on Business, Finance, and the Economy.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Meeting of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, July 31, 2018.
  4. World Health Organization. “International Health Regulations,” third edition, 2005.
  5. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. “Fact Sheet: The Global Health Security Agenda,” July 28, 2015.
  6. United States Government Global Health Security Strategy 2019.”
  7. Global Health Security Agenda Assessments & JEE. Accessed Nov. 6, 2019.
  8. Diara, M., S. Ngunjiri, B Aliyu, S. Jones, A. Brown et al., “A Global Effective Ebola Outbreak Preparedness and Response from an Oil and Gas Company Perspective.” Society of Petroleum Engineers International Conference and Exhibition on Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Social Responsibility, Stavanger, Norway, April 11-13, 2016. doi:10.2118/179375-MS
  9. Diara, M., S. Ngunjiri, A. Brown Maruziak, A. Ben Edet, R. Plenderleith et al, “Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Global Oil and Gas Workplaces.” Society of Petroleum Engineers International Conference on Health, Safety and Environment, Long Beach, California, March 17-19, 2014. doi:10.2118/179375-MS
  10. Diara, M., C.E. Johnson, R.O. Dockins, D.L. Buford, A. Ben Edet et al, “Mitigating Infectious Diseases in Company Workplaces Through Business Partnerships.” Society of Petroleum Engineers European Health, Safety and Environment Conference and Exhibition, London, United Kingdom, April 16-18, 2013. doi:10.2118/164997-MS
  11. Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at The Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M. 4th Annual Pandemic Policy Summit Pandemic Preparedness Innovation Forum. College Station, Texas, October 16, 2018.
  12. Society of Petroleum Engineers Online Education. “Public Private Partnerships for (PP4) Global Health Threats” panel sesson and webinar, recorded Jan. 24, 2018.
  13. Society of Petroleum Engineers Online Education. “Addressing Infectious Diseases in Oil and Gas Workplaces: Ebola Prepredness and Response Key Learnings” webinar, recorded April 7, 2015.
  14. Schnirring, L., “Experts detail global pandemic readiness gaps, offer steps.” University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Accessed Nov. 6, 2019.
  15. International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA) Health website. Accessed Nov. 7, 2019.
  16. International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) Health website. Accessed Nov. 7, 2019.
  17. Private Sector Round Table (PSRT). “Global Health Security Agenda.” Accessed Nov. 8, 2019.
  18. Global Business Group on Health (GBGH). Accessed Nov. 7, 2019.