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Pandemic Planning: Risk Management, innovation and the new future

Back in February, The Qatar Regional Group, decided to hold their regional meeting on the topic of Pandemic Planning. A forward thinking and innovative regional group, which is already leading the way in terms of ensuring their meetings provide maximum impact through extensive member interaction and engagement, they further cemented their status as a beacon of best practice by identifying early on the potential for cancellation of their meeting. Instead, with the support of the IRM, the group announced it as a webinar, not only for Qatar but for the whole community of risk managers globally.

In a post-Covid-19 future, where we are exposed to an ever increasing list of threats, this foresight (some would call it good risk management) and ability to remain flexible and resilient by taking advantage of innovative ideas and technology, needs to be part of the DNA of all organisations and governments. It is additionally relevant that the webinar was on the topic of Pandemic Planning.

The webinar was run successfully on the 17 March 2020 and included a presentation by Ghislain Giroux Dufort and a panel discussion on numerous Pandemic topics. The Panel was made up of global risk and resilience experts including Ghislain Giroux Dufort, President of Baldwin Global Risk Strategies Inc. Dylan Campbell, ERM Manager at Qatar Chemicals Company and Alexander Larsen, President of Baldwin Global Risk Services Ltd. Aarnout Wennekers, Corporate Planning Manager at Qatar Free Zones Authority moderated the session.

Carolyn Williams, CMIRM, IRM Director of Corporate Relations said, “We were delighted to see the Qatar group moving so swiftly to respond to the crisis. The essence of a professional community is the sharing of knowledge and experience on a global scale and we expect to see many more of these online events as we all navigate through uncharted waters. Consolidating our professional knowledge and also connecting with each other, spending time doing something positive is the best way of getting ourselves, and our organisations through this difficult time.”

The video can be seen HERE

Covid-19, Risks and Business Continuity 

Ghislain Giroux Dufort, President of Baldwin Global Risk Strategies Inc. opened the webinar by presenting information on the current Covid-19 outbreak. The key risk characteristics of the virus were discussed, including the symptoms, infection rate, the riskiest age groups and the fact there is no immunization, vaccine or treatment currently available. The pandemic is having devastating affects world-wide to health and the economy with numbers of confirmed cases escalating on a daily basis and governments intervening with closures of non-essential services and restrictions on travel and movement. This outbreak is already significantly worse than the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

There have been huge numbers of emerging negative risks from the pandemic; including the effect on people’s health, impact on healthcare systems, supply chain problems in response to panic buying, transport restrictions and market crashes. However, there are also some opportunity effects including the boost to pharmaceutical industries and virtual technology systems, an increase in supermarket and online sales and delivery companies creating new jobs to meet demand.

Every organisation should be assessing their business continuity exposure, implementing business continuity plans and updating them for the Covid-19 pandemic scenario. There will be several new key areas of risk for organisations such as increased absenteeism and security risks with whole companies moving to remote working on possibly unsecure networks vulnerable to hackers.

The New Norm

Review of the modelling of the pandemic has estimated a vaccine will take 12-18 months to develop, and simulations of immunity developing in society could take several years. The biggest threat is if the virus develops into something similar to seasonal flu, constantly evolving and requiring new vaccinations each year. Currently there have been different approaches to tackling the virus across different countries, however we will only know which is the best option as the pandemic evolves. One factor that everyone can agree on is that this virus will change our future forever and have a profound impact on how we live our lives.

Covid-19 – The Black Swan?

One of the first questions discussed by the panel was whether or not Covid-19 was a Black Swan and where the risk should sit within organisations. Alexander Larsen suggested that a pandemic will often be a corporate risk for many industries such as the airline, rail and holiday industry and should be on risk registers at all times. He made it clear however that he did not feel it was a Black Swan event.

A Black Swan Event is an unexpected, rare event but a pandemic should have been a foreseeable event as scientist simulations have been in place for years. However, the combination of several events during this Covid-19 outbreak could be considered a black swan situation; with border closures, schools and non-essential service closure, oil prices affected due to the situation with Russia and global markets crashing. (even these can be predicted however and are often called Grey Rhinos)

Alexander also suggested that in an interconnected world with an ever growing population, it is quite reasonable to expect companies need to consider, as an emerging risk, whether Pandemic situations will now happen more often, or indeed, if this virus evolves in a way the seasonal flu has.

Preparing for a Pandemic

Amongst the key messages from the panel regarding preparing for a pandemic and developing a plan was the importance of crisis communication. Dylan highlighted the importance of communication internally, ensuring the right information gets to the right people at the right time. He suggested that communication should also be a two way process whereby staff are offered the chance to question and comment. Alexander also suggested that the “why” is communicated too.

Technology was brought up on several occasions by the panel who not only believe it can be a vital tool for continuity but also for efficiency in the future. It is also important to note however, that several technology services have been struggling under the weight of the increased demand globally.

Some interesting examples were shared of organisations able to react and adapt quickly, possibly due to pre-existing planning, changing their objectives and plans in response to the pandemic. Examples included Louis Vuitton moving from making perfumes to hand sanitizer which will no doubt improve their reputation and allows them to stay open and keep jobs. Other manufacturers such as GKN are moving to help create medical devices too. Even during a time of crisis, some organisations are clearly able to identify and take advantage of opportunities to increase the likelihood of survival but also maintain their reputation .

When asked about key aspects of a plan, Ghislain covered a few topics including how pandemics have been forecast for years although there are so many unknowns related to these on severity and effects. He suggested that organisations look at key business services and the human dependency on these services. Questions should be asked as to whether they can be moved to remote services and how it will impact clients. It is also important for organisations to consider Government actions. How will they affect the economy and public services and therefore the organisation? During his presentation, he provided the following model to help organisations consider all aspects of their planning (see below).

Plans should also be flexible enough to consider wider scenarios. We have seen in the past that volcanoes and acts of terror have caused disruption. Too often however, plans continue to be based around these very unique and specific threats, making it difficult to adapt when the specific situation doesn’t arise as expected. Instead, plans should be looking at the broader and more realistic event that will cause disruption to the business, namely, flights being grounded (as a result of a volcano, terrorism, government intervention or any other reason). 

Ghislain also mentioned that a vital component that is often overlooked when discussing pandemic planning, and that can add real value in monitoring and managing the risk, is the use of Key Risk Indicators as is depicted in the graph below.


Most risk managers wouldn’t have expected the extent of this current pandemic. Therefore, this disbelief affects the mindset when creating a pandemic plan and its importance. However, for all future plans, all the effects from the Covid-19 outbreak which were previously considered unexpected, should now be considered possible and expected. The landscape and importance of risk management has been changed forever. If there is one take away for pandemic planning, it is that every decision made in business should have a risk-based approach. 


  • Alexander Larsen CFIRM, President Baldwin Global Risk Services Ltd
  • Dylan Campbell, Enterprise Risk Manager at Q-Chem
  • Ghislain Giroux Dufort CMIRM, President Baldwin Global Risk Strategies Inc
  • Aarnout Wennekers, Corporate Planning Manager at Qatar Free Zones Authority

The full webinar can be viewed HERE

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