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ERM Helps Businesses “Prepare to Protect"

Since 2004, the U.S. has recognized September as National Preparedness Month. September was originally chosen because the tragedies of September 11, 2001, highlighted the importance of being prepared. But the September observance is particularly applicable in 2021 as the fall is bringing with it a recurrence of supply-chain and related food safety issues, and questions around the infectious disease impacts of return to school, work, and indoor activities.

With FEMA's national annual preparedness outreach intended to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time, the 2021 theme is “Prepare to Protect.” For businesses, the agency sees “Health hazards such as widespread and serious illnesses like the flu” as one of the top four hazards. Although the website provides Ready Business Toolkits for natural hazards (earthquake, hurricane, inland flooding, power outage, and severe wind/tornado), it does not have one for health hazards – or food safety hazards, which TAG sees as just as critical. So in this article, we are filling in that gap.

The Ready.gov toolkits provide a four-step guide to help business leaders build preparedness within your organization. Following is TAG’s Take on the four steps applied to food safety and workplace infectious disease, with a key focus on the implementation of an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) approach. As defined by Investopedia, ERM is “a methodology that looks at risk management strategically from the perspective of the entire firm or organization.” As a top-down strategy, it “aims to identify, assess, and prepare for potential losses, dangers, hazards, and other potentials for harm that may interfere with an organization's operations and objectives and/or lead to losses.”

So, integrating ERM with FEMA’s four steps means:

  1. Identify Your Risk. When identifying risk of either food safety or workplace infectious disease, it is important to consider potential hazards to the entire firm or organization. For example, a recall does not just impact the production floor, it requires participation from a vast array of departments and business units; it also effects the reputation of the entire organization. In the same way, having COVID or influenza transmitted among workers not only impacts production, but can infect personnel in other departments to result in supply chain impacts – forward and back. Thus, viewing risk through the ERM lens is key to not only identifying risk but also in prioritizing risk management. Another important part of identifying risks is having a program that scans the ongoing risks in the community in which you are impacted, which may be local or global. This allows you to see risks coming before they impact you.
  2. Develop A Plan. With the risk identification and prioritization conducted, management planning can begin. ERM plays a significant role as it is essential to ensure that the policies and procedures you develop are able to work independently yet synergistically with other dependent policies, procedures, and systems to effectively manage risks throughout the organization. Once this plan is developed, it then needs to be made available to all stakeholders to ensure each is prepared and knows what needs to be done should an event occur.
  3. Take Action. Acting on the plan is both the simplest and most difficult part. If you are prepared – you have your plan in place, have communicated it so all know their roles, and have conducted simulations to “practice” – you will be ready to address whatever risk may lead to a crisis. However, that doesn’t mean it will always go completely smoothly. Any crisis will have surprises; it is unlikely that you will know the full extent of the event at the beginning. So while you will want to stick to the plan, you also will need to be flexible, dealing with each evolution as it comes. But as decisions are made, just be sure that you are considering the full enterprise, not just a single unit or moment in time.
  4. Be Recognized and Inspire Others. Ready.gov includes this step in reference to a business’ eligibility to receive recognition as “Ready Business Community Member,” but we see it as having a broader connotation of both internally recognizing your teams and externally sharing lessons learned with the industry and protective practices with the public, as was discussed in the August 17 TAG Insights article.

Being Prepared is truly the only way to ensure you are able to Protect your business and employees in times of crisis – whether it be related to natural, health or other hazards. But being prepared also includes having a Preparedness Champion, which may be an individual or a small group who make it their mission to ensure you are best equipped to deal with a variety of hazards.  If you’ve not assessed your crisis management plan lately, National Preparedness Month presents a good opportunity to do so. If you need assistance, give TAG a call. We can help.

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