Were You Ready for a Global Pandemic? PEP Seminar Summary & Highlights

“Were You Ready for a Global Pandemic?” Seminar Summary & Highlights

As part of PEP’s 2020 Virtual Industrial Reverse Trade Show, PEP hosted an interactive panel discussion that was free and open to the public on December 3, 2020. During the seminar, local business and government leaders shared the innovations and best practices they implemented to adapt to the sudden changes brought on by a global pandemic.

Were You Ready for a Global Pandemic?

Randy Rogers, Director of Site Communications and Governmental Affairs at Evonik Corporation, discussed the first actions they implemented and the pandemic’s impacts on their business operations, contracts, and people. Randy admitted their theoretical pandemic plan was not adequate to address the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no true playbook available for a global pandemic and there were no subject matter experts to call upon. However, their company did have an initial plan to start the process.

In March 2020, Evonik began a widespread Work from Home (WFH) campaign. The production areas implemented 50% capacity or less for staff onsite, and other support roles went to 100% WFH. They also communicated visual “social distancing” messages to staff.

One problem Evonik faced was a lack of cleaning supplies and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). To address this challenge, their procurement office in Mobile made all of the purchases and then distributed to all sites. Their supply of hand sanitizer was very low so Evonik’s peroxide group “pivoted” to provide a product as an internal solution.

Initially, Evonik staffed guards at all six entrances to check temperatures, but now they going to be installing thermal cameras at each entrance. These cameras are more accurate than handheld thermal scanners and use face recognition software, which identifies eyes and reads temperature from tear ducts. The software gives the employee and security a “green” or “red” light. This simplified process will allow security to monitor all thermal cameras from one central location.

COVID-19 – Working Within the New Normal and Planning for the Future

Gary Blake, VP of Industrial Services at Safety Plus, explained how the global pandemic forced them, just like many businesses around the world, to communicate sudden changes to their workforce. One of their first priorities was to carefully examine all of the information that was pushed out from the CDC, state government, and the Mobile County Health Department to decipher the vital information they needed to communicate to employees.

The Safety Plus office and training facility has remained open since the start of the pandemic. They added a secondary office location to accommodate employees that did not want to work remotely and to allow more space for onsite safety training. Safety Plus had to immediately set protocols for working from home and, later, the reintegration of employees returning to the office. They implemented new technologies to allow remote workers to share the servers and phone systems. They added a new time clock in their internal task software and required all remote employees to complete daily task logs and weekly forecasts.

Safety Plus utilizes Zoom for company-wide meetings, remote learning and training sessions to their clients. They implemented cross-training and skill sharing to keep up productivity. With these new protocols in place, they discovered productivity was still really high with remote workers so, these employees did not need to maintain a traditional in-office presence. With the number of employees working inside the office dropping off dramatically, they realized the need to budget for a building expansion was no longer critical. They also learned the current COVID-19 protocols made remote sales and operations a much more practical option.

The City’ of Mobile’s COVID-10 Response, Planning/Coordination & Action

Joseph Snowden, Executive Director of Administrative Affairs for the City of Mobile, explained the early successes the City had such as the early coordination efforts with the US Coast Guard, CDC, state, local, and Mobile County Health Department. These early coordination efforts started in February 2020 and focused on prevention and strengthening the City’s procedures.

As a government agency, COVID-19 hit the City just like any other organization. They certainly did not anticipate the spread and impact that COVID presented in our community throughout the year. The Mayor developed an internal city task force that met every day to start addressing the issues they would be facing with the pandemic. The city also established a Unified Command of officials from the City, Mobile County and the Mobile County Health Department. With this group of coordinated authority and jurisdictions, they began to develop policies and procedures to protect Mobile’s citizens and distribute vital communication.

Early on, the City believed one of the biggest groups at risk, because of the close contact with the community, was our first responders. Mobile was one of the first cities to test the first responders to see how many were positive with COVID-19. The positive employees were isolated so they could keep the rest of the first responders working in the community. They also met frequently with the Chief Medical Officers at our local hospitals to see how they were doing and to find out how the City could assist and keep them from getting overwhelmed.

The city has a diverse working population of city employees and many have risk factors. To keep them safe, the City had to find new ways of doing business so they shifted operations to a plan they use during hurricanes when they cannot work from Government Plaza. They shifted all work processes to allow employees to work from home, eliminated the number of visitors coming into the building, and utilized our website to continue providing services to our citizens.

The City of Mobile was faced with many challenges as they tried to keep citizens safe. They had to implement face masks and curfews. They also focused on several campaigns to help downtown restaurants and businesses recover and find ways for citizens to safely patronize our downtown area. The City is now focused on supporting the medical community and coordinating vaccine distribution and implementation. Many of the COVID testing sites will become drive-through vaccine distribution sites. The City recently tested this concept with the administration of flu vaccinations to city employees.

Hargrove’s COVID-19 Experience

Chris Comstock, Corporate Safety Leader at Hargrove Engineers + Constructors, discussed the business impacts and adjustments they made as a result of COVID-19. Many projects were put on hold by clients due to a downturn in operations from the economic impact of the pandemic. This forced Hargrove to find creative ways to maintain their Teammates assigned to worksites in 14 primary offices in eight different states across the U.S.

Hargrove had a pandemic plan, but like many others, it was a basic playbook. Many of their early decisions were based on WHO and CDC recommendations. However, these two organizations sometimes issued conflicting recommendations so they eventually shifted solely to CDC guidelines. The CDC’s recommendations changed often, which required protocol updates and more communication. All Teammates, except project critical Teammates, transitioned to work from home in mid-March. They allowed a maximum of 10 Teammates per office.

Hargrove’s internal communication efforts worked really well. They had twice daily leadership meetings and centralized corporate communication for all office locations. This included email messaging, bi-weekly video addresses with Q & A, and phone messaging. They also had an existing and robust virtual network. Their IT team was key. Hargrove has also been practicing virtual teaming for more than 10 years. This helped them transition Hargrove’s Teammates from in-office to almost 100% working remotely from home within a few days.

Chris also discussed areas of improvement determined by Hargrove thus far. The contract tracing policy they set is a little more restrictive than the CDC’s recommendations. Their policy includes verbal interaction with a two-week look back, within 6 feet or greater than 10 minutes, regardless of wearing a mask. For future pandemics or similar situations, they will add an electronic system to provide more efficiency with contact tracing.

Chris explained the variations between city and state regulations have been very inconsistent and challenging to track. Each state has different mask mandates and office capacity restrictions. Hargrove required all Teammates to wear masks in all locations regardless of state mandates.

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