Preparing for a Possible Second Wave

Get ahead of the next disaster, be it a pandemic, a hurricane or a tornado.

July 14, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge to foodservice operators throughout the world. According to, those managers will need to take a measured approach to both disaster preparedness and recovery with the prospect of a “second wave” of COVID-19.

To successfully navigate these events, operators should consider these three proven strategies to prepare.

The first thing a foodservice operator needs to do is to hold a short meeting with every staff member and do a full debriefing of the COVID-19 response in that operation. Cover every part of the response and ask two questions: “What did we do well?” [during the pandemic] and “What do we need to work on?” A successful debriefing will identify both the strengths and weaknesses of the operation’s emergency response.

When conducting a debriefing, follow these three rules:

  • Hold it sooner rather than later. Memories will fade quickly as employees get back into a routine, and valuable lessons-learned could be lost.
  • Require 100% staff participation. Front and back of the house staff, full- and part-time, management, and even ownership should participate. Each group can provide unique perspectives on each element of your plan.
  • Arrange for a third party not associated with your operation to lead the meeting. It’s critical to receive honest, forthright feedback about your disaster plan, and this can’t be accomplished when the meeting is run by the same managers who made the policies. When management runs the meeting, employees can be reluctant to say anything perceived as critical of their superiors.

After the meeting, management should write a full report of everything discovered. This is the after-action report, and when properly constructed, it provides actionable improvement steps on what procedural, functional and policy modifications are needed to strengthen the operation’s pandemic response. It is so critical, in fact, that these reports are required by statute or regulation in other industries, such as health care and construction.

Once the operation’s lessons-learned meeting has been completed, the recommendations should be embedded in a COVID-19 pandemic plan. There is little doubt that the long-term threat of COVID-19 to operations is not going to evaporate any time soon, so identified lessons can be invaluable if there is a second wave.

Foodservice operators need to prepare for possible periodic spikes of the coronavirus, which could create a reflexive action by public health officials in the form of a secondary quarantine. This happened in food establishments throughout the U.S., particularly in California and Michigan, where initial opening orders were quickly followed by instructions to re-close.

Depending on the sophistication of the operation, this will unquestionably involve preparing and repurposing finances, marketing and operations. Further, even if a second wave fails to materialize, those lessons in the COVID-19 pandemic can be applied to seasonal influenza fluctuations or other disease outbreaks that occur every winter.

The overwhelming amount of news regarding COVID-19 has also overshadowed the other natural, technological or security risks that business operators face daily. Post-COVID-19 disaster plans need to consider how to manage a second emergency simultaneously with COVID, such as a wildfire, tornado or hurricane.

For example, a typical tornado response would initially involve a shelter-in-place, where staff and customers will gather in a small room or area. With COVID-19, those tornado plans must be modified, as employees may need to be sheltered in multiple locations, and/or masks and portable barriers will need to be available in the sheltering areas to ensure that coronavirus safety precautions are maintained.

Even with the lifting of quarantine lockdowns, foodservice operations will continue to face challenges related to COVID-19. Those who implement a few basic procedures will be prepared to respond more effectively not only to a second wave of COVID-19 but also to the next emergency that might be lurking around the corner.

The NACS Convenience Store Emergency Planning and Job Aids are customizable and include a plan evaluation document and Job Aids of tasks and checklists for specific functions that store employees perform during emergency and disaster planning and recovery. The Job Aids can also be used as on-boarding training, refresher training or immediate training when emergency conditions approach.​

For more on emergency preparedness steps, see “The First Line of Defense” in the October 2019 issue of NACS Magazine.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.