The COVID-19 virus, whether it is officially a pandemic or not, has commanded the attention of businesses, governments and individuals worldwide. The spread of the disease and worse, our ability to communicate globally almost instantly, while lacking real credible information, has us in a difficult position tactically. Global markets have experienced major declines or wild gyrations. Nations and some regions have essentially been isolated, if not effectively sealed off from the rest of the world. Panic buying of some goods that may or may not be effective in providing protection from the virus or its effects has happened. Further, some goods and services may not be easily resupplied because their production has been concentrated in places that are overtaxed by dealing with responses to containing the disease. Our collective societal reactions have exposed our deep reliance on and the risks of some of our strategic services and processes. The good thing is that COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be as deadly as some diseases. Forming and deploying our COVID-19 response gives us an opportunity to reassess some of our widely used governing and business strategies, to confirm if and how we should mitigate our risk.
First is global rapid air travel. Living in metropolitan Atlanta provides relatively easy access to the busiest airport in the world. One can get to most world population centers via a direct flight to or from here. A person can realistically get to and return from a meeting in any city from the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean in a day trip. However, that means I could also pick up a virus from most major cities in the nation and bring it to metro Atlanta or take one and spread it unknowingly to dozens in other cities in one day. There has been a resistance to teleworking in many government organizations and further, many businesses have reversed their telework programs. Perhaps it might be useful to revisit teleworking and work from home programs. These programs may provide a strategic contingency for maintaining education, government services delivery and business operations in these times.
Next, we have almost universally adopted just in time production and globally integrated supply chains for production and delivery of most of our consumer goods and many of our services. These processes have allowed more goods and services at a relatively lower cost. However, we now are facing the realization that some low cost, but essential goods are no longer produced anywhere close to their places of consumption. As a result, in this crisis we have experienced critical shortages of masks and other personal protective equipment. Further, we face the potential of shortages of commonly used drugs or their components because they are manufactured in areas experiencing mass quarantines that are closing factories and keeping production workers at home. In this country, we have maintained a strategic oil reserve for decades, even though the US has become one of the major global petroleum producers and exporters. Our reserve has allowed protections from adverse fluctuations in the global oil markets and afforded more strategic control of our daily living. Perhaps, it is time that we expand what goods and commodities that we consider strategic, or modify the processes by which we deem them so, and add some level of national or regional contingency production and delivery. This might look like pseudo regulated industries similar to our telephone companies or other utilities.
There are other areas that we should consider, such as public local mass transportation, centralized health care delivery and others. COVID-19 is a crisis that presents challenges on many fronts. Nevertheless, crisis presents opportunity. Addressing COVID-19 is an opportunity for us to reassess and refine some of our current strategies or even transform our thinking and delivery of our societal processes.