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September 14, 2022

Preparing for the Next Pandemic Starts Now

Stephen Massey

September is National Preparedness Month, a moment for businesses to ensure they are ready for any kind of emergency, including the next public health crisis.

  • In a recent survey, 30% of executives said they expect another pandemic before 2025, and 50% expect one in the next 10 years.
  • While it’s impossible to predict exactly when the next pandemic will strike, employers can take steps now to prepare and contain its impact. Hoping for the best is not a strategy.

In our new Pandemic Preparedness Plan for Business, set for release next week, we offer a comprehensive blueprint to help your company prepare for whatever threat the future holds.

Below, we offer six key actions to help your organization get started.

  1. Review your company’s COVID-19 response and collect your learnings.Challenge yourself to ask where your response came up short and where you may have gotten lucky, as well as areas where you were well prepared or where your teams stepped up. Your goal is to identify and prevent weaknesses in your future response.
  2. Assign a team representing key areas of your business operations to lead your company’s go-forward planning. Nearly 3 in 4 large companies surveyed by Mercer said they created pandemic response committees during the pandemic. Fifty-five percent intend to keep those committees in place, as of March 2022.

    That team—with representation from your environmental, health and safety department; HR; communications; legal; security; operations; and your Chief Medical Officer—should meet regularly and engage in scenario planning to anticipate real-life challenges.

  • Continually evolving your scenario planning will help future-proof your organization by responding to the unknown rather than re-creating responses to yesterday’s crisis.
  • Your team should also create new emergency-response templates based on your company’s successful COVID-19 actions. This could include processes for chain of command decision-making, remote working, updated sick leave policies and supporting employees with second-wave challenges like caregiver relief, burnout, trauma and financial stress. 
  1. Ensure your emergency preparedness team’s work is transparent to build confidence that the team is ready to lead in a moment of crisis. Gather input from a wide spectrum of employees, including hourly or low-wage workers and those representing populations that may be disproportionately impacted by a public health emergency. Better yet, include some of these employees on your emergency preparedness team.
  2. Test your pandemic response plans with live-scenario exercises. Participate in work-from-home drills to ensure your teams are able to shift away from the workplace environment. And seek opportunities to participate in table-top pandemic exercises with city, county or regional public emergency response teams. This will help you establish valuable relationships and identify whether you have the right people in the roles to guide your company’s response.
  3. Draft policies that support public health guidance (e.g., for vaccination, testing and masking). You’ll want to be able to activate these policies quickly and move from voluntary to mandatory employee action if needed.
  4. Consider hiring a Chief Health Officer or Chief Medical Officer to advise and coordinate your health response. Companies report that their chief health/medical officers were crucial in translating advice from public health departments and managing the sometimes conflicting national and local guidance. 

An in-house health expert—frequently an epidemiologist or public health practitioner—is valuable for managing all organization-wide health matters, including providing a healthy workplace free of disease and improving employee well-being. That’s why some companies find “chief health officer” to be a more appropriate title—their work goes well beyond medical care.

  • Small Business Tip:  Smaller employers can band together to approach a local epidemiologist or public health practitioner for vital assistance translating public health advice. Local universities could be helpful partners. Consider going through a local industry association, chamber or wellness council.

The scale and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic were difficult to imagine in 2020. Don’t let a failure of imagination or failure to prepare increase your company’s risk in a future crisis.


If you’d like help preparing your company for a future pandemic, our team of experts is here to help. We offer free coaching to help your organization take action. Email us at to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.