I wrote an article about leading coronavirus comms for Intel during the first three months of 2020, when there was little information and lots of fear. We learned a lot of hard lessons. The introduction is below, and you can read the entire article on the IPRA website.
Three months that changed everything
A global company, a dangerous time and five hard-won lessons in risk communication
Imagining bad outcomes and envisioning and planning for worst-case scenarios is a requirement for my job. A mantra that I’ve repeated to my colleagues is that bad things happen to good people and one should prepare accordingly. But at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, I succumbed to conventional wisdom and told my team they’d be better off worrying about the seasonal flu and making sure they got their shots. Oops. A year later, they still gleefully –and deservedly– like to remind me of this failure of imagination.
In my defense, I’d experienced three pandemic near-misses. I lived in Singapore during the SARS outbreak of 2003 and in Beijing during alarm over bird flu and swine flu. SARS was the most frightening, but it petered out at 8,000 cases and fewer than 800 known fatalities. For those of us not directly impacted, its most visible legacy was the thermal cameras that lingered in airports all over Asia for years afterward.
SARS did leave another important legacy at Intel, one of the world’s biggest designers and manufacturers of semiconductors, with more than 110,000 employees around the world. At Intel, keeping our immense wafer fabrication and assembly/test facilities operating safely is everything. These facilities are spread across seven countries and four continents and without them there is no company. Safety culture is deeply ingrained at Intel, and the company has experienced global and site-level emergency operations teams that help to manage risk situations. After SARS, Intel created a “Pandemic Leadership Team” (PLT) that could coordinate a corporate response during disease outbreaks.