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Reopening Retail: Lessons from Past Pandemics

Taking the next step in crisis recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has very quickly changed the world we live in, and in ways most of us thought were unimaginable just a few months ago. While businesses may have had crisis management plans in place, this was a much different type of threat that left many completely off-guard and unprepared for the impact that this silent attack would have on our daily lives and on our livelihood.

It’s an understatement to say that retail has changed and going forward in the so-called “new normal” could resemble an episode of The Twilight Zone. New rules and changing norms are influencing much of what we can do. While it’s encouraging to hear that retailers are planning for recovery to get back to business, it will most certainly not be “business as usual.” As such, there are a number of important considerations to think about and plan for when developing a strategy to reopen stores and recover as a business.

To help our industry plan for what comes next, LP Magazine sought insights from an expert in disaster preparation, crisis response, and business recovery. Ed Minyard and his team at ResponseForce1 are typically running toward danger when the rest of us are running in the other direction. He has played a role in most every major global disaster since and including 9/11—from hurricane Katrina to the Japanese Tsunami, to earthquakes in Haiti and wildfires in California. And yes, even past and present pandemics.

- Digital Partner -

A business owner, former US Army ranger, and author, Minyard has worked on projects from building evacuation management systems to planning communication strategies for emergency response. His unique experience offers important insights and critical considerations when developing a re-entry and recovery strategy to get businesses back up and running.

Past Pandemic Lessons

While COVID-19 is unique in many ways, it wasn’t that long ago that the world was dealing with another pandemic. In 2009, the world was reeling in the face of a novel coronavirus labeled H1N1 or commonly called “swine flu.” The government of Mexico took drastic and relatively quick steps to mitigate the spread.

Hundreds of Mexican soldiers and police officers were mobilized by the government, handing out millions of surgical masks to citizens in and around Mexico City. Schools and public gatherings were shut down, and a quarantine system was established for all public transportation to prevent the disease from spreading further. The decision was also made to interrupt unessential private sector services and maintain only those necessary for families to have basic supplies available, like food, water, electricity, and transportation.

When the decision was finally made to reopen, measured steps were taken to help mitigate resurgence of the virus. Social distancing rules were maintained, requiring 6-foot spacing between people in gathering places, stores, restaurants, and other venues, along with additional precautions to keep people safe. This began the rise of pandemic planning and helped establish many of the ground rules that are in place today.

Recognizing that pandemics or other infectious diseases may be unavoidable, businesses must have a plan to mitigate the impact. This should include:

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  • Controlling propagation through social distancing and having effective hygiene policies.
  • Managing the workforce by maintain work-shift flexibility and telecommunication practices.
  • Establishing alternative worksites by shifting work to unaffected areas when possible.
  • Effective and transparent communication channels to reduce anxiety and improve compliance.

Building a Recovery Strategy

When building a strategy for disaster recovery, retailers must first recognize that there are several phases for effective response:

  • Mitigate. We must take appropriate steps to prevent future emergencies or at least minimize their effects.
  • Prepare. We must take necessary actions ahead of time to be ready for an emergency should an event occur.
  • Respond. We must establish effective response measures to protect life and property in an emergency situation.
  • Recover. We must take appropriate action to rebuild follow the emergency event.

Minyard explained that this should involve a tiered strategy.

  • Tier 1–Response Support. Here it’s important to establish and deploy your core damage assessment teams, including information technology, utilities, environmental, critical delivery services, and supply chain professionals.
  • Tier 2–Recovery Support. Are your employees ready to work? This would include administrative and payroll employees, stock and inventory teams, loss prevention and security personnel, sales teams, and other support functions.
  • Tier 3–Repopulation Support. This would include basic operational control recommendations and generally accepted guidelines. What’s your plan? Establish your policies, procedures, and processes now, but be flexible to adjust and change as needed.

While these are all general recommendations, it’s essential to run everything by your company’s compliance and legal team while continuing to monitor OHSA, HIPAA, ADA, and other government direction and guidelines to ensure you are up to date and compliant.

Timing Is Everything

It’s important to ask the hard question—when is it really the right time to reopen our stores? Basic considerations include store location, the type of retail business, the core customers, customer and employee needs, and other fundamental factors important to the safe and successful operation of the business.

- Digital Partner -

To learn more, click here to watch the recorded webinar from April 17, 2020: “How to Prep Your Business to Recover from COVID-19.”

Or you can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

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