Looking back on the past few months, we have been forced to travel a strange journey together across the planet. Dealing with the almost fraternizing issue of an active pandemic outbreak really was something new to deal with. The first few weeks started as surrealistic, driving an almost apocalyptic silence and distancing throughout the streets. As the weeks passed, more leniency re-occurred in daily life. Right now we are at the point of trying to resume ‘normal’ business and operations again.

Relevance of bowtie model in current times

Since the COVID-19 crises started, there have been many takes on the bowtie model. It was promising to see that also in this specific health risk context, the popular barrier-based scenario method is once more widely spread and adopted by multiple industries and many organizations. In order to accommodate companies through both phases (going in quarantine/lockdown as well as resuming normal activities) CGE Risk Management Solutions too engaged in providing bowties to capture the situation at hand.

When zooming out on the various materials provided, one thing in particular struck our attention. There was a difference over time concerning the main focus of these bowties. For instance, in the two bowties that CGE officially underpinned and spread, you can clearly see that one of them focusses more on the right-hand side of the model, whereas the other pays much more attention to the left-hand side in its scope.

Figure 1. COVID-19 bowtie by CGE, dated end of March 2020 | Click on the image to enlarge the picture.

Engulfed by pan(dem)ic

At the end of March, our team was asked to pro-actively create a bowtie for the current situation, providing a neutral take on it. The left-hand side appeared to offer more ‘common sensical’ scenarios, and we tread lightly over the barriers on how to prevent the top event from occurring. During our entire brainstorm however, we noticed that our attention was mainly driven to the right-hand side of the bowtie. It was something we put more thought in, had intense discussions about, and honestly were much more worried about. What if someone were to be infected with COVID-19? What would this practically mean? Not only for that person but for an entire department or organization? We actually feared these scenario lines.

Empowered by survival

At the end of May, we worked together with one of our partners to create a bowtie to facilitate the safe transition in resuming at least closer to normal operations. Though it is in essence a very similar bowtie (comparable hazard/top event, threats, and consequences), this time in fact we spent most effort to elaborate on the left-hand side of the bowtie. Much more excessively than on the right-hand side.

So, what happened here? Is this latter one a ‘bad bowtie’? Does the eagerness of wanting to return to a normal status make us reluctant to see its dangers? We think not. Having overcome the past few months together, we have become more knowledgeable about the virus, its symptoms and consequences, the ways to prevent the spread and the statistics that back all this information up. These lessons have taught us where to focus on this time. To be extremely aware of the risk organizations are running, by depicting the immense lack of recovery barriers to stop the top event reaching the (highly!) unwanted and foremost consequence – another outbreak.

Figure 2. COVID-19 bowtie by CGE, dated end of May 2020 | Click on the image to enlarge the picture.

Choose your battle while staying safe

In hindsight, what we did in March was trying to manage a crisis. Today we will hopefully be able to manage the risk of winding up in a crisis, thus regaining control of everyday life once again. Even with an almost similar skeleton, the context in which you create a bowtie model can differ so much, that a final version does not even closely resemble a previous essentially similar counterpart.

When resuming activities at the workplace (either in an office or on-site), try to figure out what your corporate stance is towards the COVID-crises: do you want to focus on resuming activities, prevent another outbreak, or preferably do both? Whichever you decide, we wish you a safe path and hope to have been of assistance so far in this extraordinary time.