The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to make some tough decisions, and perhaps enterprises with widespread global reach have felt that pressure even more so. But Dave Komendat, Vice President and Chief Security Officer (CSO), Security & Fire Protection (S&FP) at Boeing and his team have not shied away from the difficult decisions, because it’s been those difficult decisions that have helped the company minimize the risk of exposure of employees to COVID-19 and of operational disruptions throughout the past year and a half.

Upon early warning of the viral outbreak in Wuhan, China, S&FP and Boeing’s Health Services team were tasked with co-managing the company’s Crisis Management Working Group (CMWG) and overall COVID-19 pandemic response for the enterprise. To navigate the Herculean effort, the CMWG team took a program management approach to orchestrate interconnected projects, processes and decisions that put employee safety at the forefront and enabled business continuity. And that’s no small feat for the world's largest aerospace company and manufacturer: Boeing employs more than 140,000 people across the United States in more than 65 countries around the globe and employees in every one of those countries has been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CMWG led by Komendat and Dr. Laura Cain, Senior Director and Chief Medical Officer, leading Boeing’s Health Services, were able to remain agile and adjust the organization’s responses to fit the unique characteristics of this crisis while leveraging their industry connections and vast experience into what the company calls a “One Boeing” response, in part by relying on an existing pandemic response plan that the company had developed in the event of a significant large-scale event.

There were a couple of key factors to Boeing’s pandemic response that made a big difference along the way: the backing and confidence from Boeing leadership; a global, enterprise-wide approach; partnership between S&FP and Boeing’s Health Services; actionable information; and wide-reaching, benchmarking efforts.

Firstly, Komendat tells Security, the backing of senior leadership and confidence the organization places in its Crisis Management Working Group from the top down really set the stage for the organization to take a unified approach to this pandemic.

“Our senior leadership really understands the value of having a One Boeing response and they are very supportive of our Crisis Management Working Group, which allows us to execute and be pretty agile for a corporation of this scale,” he says.

Another important element of Boeing’s pandemic response over the past year has been the partnership between S&FP, led by Komendat, and Health Services, led by Dr. Cain. Having these critical functions co-lead the CMWG together have allowed the organization to make decisions based on the health and safety of its employees, risk mitigation, resiliency and business continuity.

“So many CSOs don’t have the benefit of an in-house medical information expert as part of their normal structure, and for us that has been invaluable in this situation,” Komendat says. “In a situation like this where medical information is such an important part of developing strategy and response, being able to collaborate with Dr. Cain and have those discussions about ways to minimize and mitigate exposure risk every single day has enabled us to translate that to executable plans and be confident that we are making the right decisions quickly.”

In addition to enabling informed decision-making with an in-house Chief Medical Officer, Boeing has been able to provide easy to understand medical information to its employees, which, in and of itself, has helped foster a sense of calm and unity across the enterprise, says Kirsten Provence, Senior Manager of Supply Chain Security, S&FP and member of Security’s Editorial Advisory Board.

Approaching the COVID-19 pandemic using program management best practices, the CMWG intentionally utilized a wide range of roles, functions and business units within the organization, as COVID-19 reached every location and country in which Boeing has a presence and the organization’s leadership knew it would need far-reaching help, expertise and support for a coordinated effort.

With a healthy dose of communication and cross-functional teams working together, including Boeing’s facility leaders, health services, law department, safety, S&FP, other business unit leaders, and executive council members, including the CEO — Boeing: sent home all non-essential workers and established COVID-19 protocols that include, among other things, the creation of a COVID-19 website and dedicated employee hotline; deployed 78 temperature screening stations; enhanced facility cleaning; implemented mandatory face coverings; improved building ventilation systems; closed or reorganized common areas to allow for social distancing; encouraged hand washing and installed hand sanitizer stations; implemented a global contact-tracing operation involving multiple teams; and secured more than $12M in personal protective equipment (PPE) to date, which has been distributed to sites in 34 countries. The response enabled a number of the company’s manufacturing facilities to re-open on schedule and remain open, safe and productive throughout the pandemic. At the time of publication, the CMWG was also working with local authorities to lay the groundwork for vaccine distribution and community support events as supply becomes available.

In addition to these COVID-19 protocols, procedures and screening, Boeing has executed a number of employee-centric solutions throughout the pandemic, including telemedicine options within the first six weeks of the pandemic, personal employee “Care Kits,” emotional and physical well-being supplemental support, 401K hardship processes and more.

S&FP has overseen multiple phases of employee remote work and return-to-office planning. More than 46,000 Boeing employees continue to telecommute. As part of Boeing’s Future Workplace strategy, S&FP is navigating how best to return these telecommuting employees to the workplace when appropriate to do so.

Provence says that the openness and communication coming from the CMWG and Boeing leadership to the entire employee population has helped the company to instill a sense of trust across the entire enterprise. “During these uncertain times, there has been a large need to have something to rely on. [The leaders] have been a consistent and positive voice to the entire organization, leading with honesty and complete transparency,” she says.

Arguably the most important element to Boeing’s COVID-19 pandemic response and planning efforts has been the laser focus on information-driven decision-making. Stakeholder communication with a global mindset and focus on fact-based decision-making has been front and center throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic, and has been deployed through Executive Council briefings, management and director meetings, and company-wide employee meetings.

Along with S&FP in-house subject matter experts and the expertise and experience of Dr. Cain and the Health Services group, another employee who has been instrumental in providing actionable data for the CMWG has been Dr. Thomas Austin, Security Risk Intelligence Analyst at the company.

Dr. Austin leveraged his 29 years of experience at Boeing, his vast knowledge monitoring for and reporting on risk, and his deep industry connections, to provide the organization with relevant insight into the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Dr. Austin provided the first warning of the emerging undiagnosed infectious disease outbreak in China characterized by the high threat of airborne disease transmission, which led to an early and comprehensive response by the entire enterprise weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled COVID-19 a global pandemic.

“Because we are a global company, it’s important that we stay ready, agile, and in most cases ahead of the pandemic,” Dr. Austin says. Information from Dr. Austin, S&FP’s reporting, along with the Health Services team expertise, have prompted a number of difficult, though critical, pandemic-related decisions that have been instrumental in mitigating risk of exposure of employees to COVID-19, minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on business operations, including temporary site suspensions at several manufacturing sites, a 24/7 hotline for case reporting and contact tracing, and establishment of COVID-19-specific site protocols and requirements.

Dr. Austin also supported the development of S&FP’s Business Continuity Risk Dashboard, which allows and assists teams in critical decision-making regarding resource allocation, including PPE, through COVID-19 Integrated Situation Reports. His technical interpretations, guidance and research have supported virtually all aspects of Boeing’s business continuity, affording key stakeholders imperative research needed to make sound decisions regarding site suspensions and re-openings, contact tracing, quarantine requirements, temperature screening and more. He continues to provide guidance, support and expertise regarding COVID-19 disease conditions, global situational awareness, and predictive analysis-based forecasts.

With so many highly experienced leaders, subject matter experts, and business units pulling together for Boeing’s unified COVID-19 response, you wouldn’t think anything more was needed. But leaders within the organization took things a step further, coordinating a wide-reaching benchmarking effort and leveraging their experience and connections within their respective roles and industries to ensure that the organization’s response efforts were going the extra mile. It’s these benchmarking efforts that are the hallmark of a company well-versed in the changing landscape of a large, international organization, along with the breadth of experience of its leaders, willing to exchange and share information and best practices with peers around the globe.

“We have done benchmarking in the past, but never at this scale,” Komendat shares. “We have had localized issues or industry-centric issues where we’ll talk with a finite number of companies and make sure we are on the same page, but with [the COVID-19 pandemic] so many different companies and industries have been impacted differently and so we leveraged large organizations to help.”

Komendat relied on his vast network of other security leaders from within the Overseas Advisory Council (OSAC), International Security Management Association (ISMA), The Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), Security Executive Council (SEC) and more, while leaders within other Boeing business units such as safety, facilities and Health Services, benchmarked and collected data as well, so that the company could really look at responses, considerations and norms from all angles.

“There is not a playbook for something this size and scale, so we want to validate what we are doing and the decisions we are making,” Komendat says, adding that the organization continues to conduct benchmarking today. “It really validates what you are doing.”