How to Keep Your Association Running if Coronavirus Worsens

As fears about the spread of the virus rise, associations are determining how they will cope if a severe outbreak hits the U.S. Business continuity plans cover many emergencies—including infectious disease—so make sure yours is up to date.

If you ever wondered why you should develop a business continuity plan, coronavirus has supplied an answer.

With the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) making news daily and fears growing that the deadly virus could spread widely in the U.S., it’s important for associations to have business continuity plans in place, experts say.

Bob Mellinger, CBCV, founder and CEO of Attainium, a company that helps organizations with business continuity planning, said preparing for coronavirus is just like preparing for any other infectious disease. “I would like to see people not get caught up in the hype,” he said. “It’s an infectious disease, just like the flu or any other.” If your association already has plans in place for responding to a flu epidemic, that’s a good place to start when planning for COVID-19.

When planning for maintaining operations at your association, key areas to focus on include policies and procedures, monitoring, and continuity practices.

Policies and Procedures

Organizations need to have policies outlined ahead of time if they want to keep operating during an emergency. To come up with those policies, consult with managers in various business units about their concerns. “The key is to ask the questions,” Mellinger said. “If the curtailing of travel comes up, and you’ve not already asked the question, you could be in some serious trouble.”

One issue with infectious disease is what to do about travel to affected regions and how to treat staff who have exposure risks, said Amber Clayton, SHRM-SCP, director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Knowledge Center.

“If someone did come back from an area where there was an outbreak, how should they report that to the employer? Then, the employer has to have some guidance for what they do,” Clayton said. “Are [those employees] required to stay home? What if they were exposed to someone who had the coronavirus? You have to have policies in place.”

Explain office policies and procedures to staff and communicate updates regularly. Ensure that staff understand how employees who are sick at work will be handled. “It needs to be thought out, so there are no surprises,” Mellinger said.


With any infectious disease outbreak, the situation can change quickly. Name a staff point person who will follow and report updates from health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also monitor what is going on at your office. Identify key data points you need to watch, both internally and externally, so you can act when needed.

“Set some triggers—things that would require you to dig deeper and maybe act,” Mellinger said. “At what level do you go, ‘Hey, we have way too many people out sick’? If you normally have 2 percent out, and you go up to 20 percent, I’d say that’s a trigger. Is 15 percent a trigger? It depends on the association. If it’s an out-of-town event, what would have to be going on in that city to make you close that event?”

Continuity Practices

In planning for the worst, associations need to identify their most important business functions. “You have to start looking at what business functions you can curtail,” Mellinger said. “Are there lower-priority things you can’t do that would allow you to do the high-priority things you need to do?”

When making those decisions, look at home and away. “From an association’s standpoint, you have normal operations that go on at headquarters, and you have meetings and events externally,” Mellinger said.

Teleworking is a business continuity solution, but it doesn’t work for every position, and it may be difficult to execute if your office doesn’t regularly allow it. If you’re considering expanding telework options, Clayton suggests asking a few questions: “Does the person have the resources? Can we communicate with the individual? Do they have everything they need to perform their jobs?”

Cross-training can also help keep operations running, she said, and it’s important to have alternate actors in your plans, in case the person charged with performing certain tasks is sick or otherwise unavailable.

Regardless of what happens with COVID-19, every association should have an up-to-date continuity plan that’s flexible enough to address a range of situations. “You have things like evacuation or shelter in place for other emergencies,” he said. “This is just one more of those things for association continuity of operations.”

(baona/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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