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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Six reasons a company needs a pandemic response and recovery plan


By Ken Wilson
Earlier this year a new strain of flu emerged and it spread rapidly around the world. It is confirmed in over 168 countries and has had negative impact on the economy of each nation. This new virus 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) looked as if it could be a deadly because most humans have no immunity to it. Luckily it was not been as deadly as first feared.

But, the situation is changing. The 2009 H1N1 is starting its second wave in the northern hemisphere and it is not alone. H1N1 is a "friendly" virus that can combine with other influenza and mutate quickly and easily. Today there are five influenza viruses active in the world -- the 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu), the H5N1 (Bird Flu) and three seasonal flus -- the Influenza A/H1N1, Influenza A/H3N2 and Influenza B.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed several cases of Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 influenza, with the most recent in July in Canada. The experts do not know how the H1N1/09 will change/mutate between now and the start of the fall seasonal flu season, businesses do need to be prepared for the worst.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said "the flu epidemic is likely to be severe, but not as severe as the 1918 pandemic, the world's worst'. Napolitano also acknowledged that there would not be enough pandemic flu vaccine for everyone, at least in the early stages of the flu season. "There will be prioritization of vaccinations", she told members of the USA TODAY editorial board (Aug. 4, 2009).

There are six reasons businesses need to develop a pandemic response and recovery plan in addition to the humanitarian need, they are:

1. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulations require that employers take "all reasonable steps" to provide and maintain a safe work environment. If the 2009 H1N1 flu becomes deadly, as in 1918, the company is responsible for the safety of its workers, customers and suppliers. OSHA requires that employers take "all reasonable steps" to provide and maintain a safe work environment.

2. The impact on the availability of the company's workforce could be severe when schools are closed and parents need to stay home. During the 1957 pandemic, a mild Asian influenza pandemic, 25% of the US population became ill.

3. We are in a recession and historically firms have greater chance of failing as we recover from the recession. The financial burdens that unprepared companies will face could multiply because of the impact of a pandemic influenza.

4. Companies need to develop a response plan which provides for the company's financial survival during the pandemic and the recovery period.

5. Estimates illustrate a moderate pandemic influenza could extend the recession by two or more years.

6. Most small and medium sized firms do not have a Pandemic Influenza Response and Recovery Plan in place. These firms employee the majority of people in the United States. Small and medium firms need to be the frontline of defense against the impact of a pandemic on people and the economy.

The 2009 H1N1 Swine flu spread across the globe in a matter of weeks, firms will not have the time to develop an effective response when it returns. A company's pandemic plan should include:

1. A pandemic crisis manager and team: A team responsible for development, maintenance and implementation of the plan.

2. Corporate policies that will be in effect during the pandemic: Decide now on whether the company will change any policy - flexible work hours, telecommuting, travel policies, use of vacation and sick leave, screening people to enter the premises, use of alternative work locations, changes to collective bargaining agreements, etc.

3. Communications plan : A detailed plan to communicate effectively with employees, customers, suppliers, governments and media. Providing clear, consistent and balanced messages based on credible sources and informing them of the steps the company is taking to protect them as the situation changes.

4. Health education plan: A comprehensive employee wellness and illness prevention program is vital for minimizing the transmission within the company. This plan details the steps and strategies to stop/minimize spread of the disease with the company and employee families.

5. Essential function/service plan: The operations needed to keep the company open during the pandemic. The procedures needed to systematically reduce or shut down operations not vital to the core functions are detailed. The objective is to continue operations as long as possible with positive cash flow.

6. Recovery plan: Guided by the essential services plan, systematically resume operations in reverse order based on the company's capabilities and the needs of their customers.

7. Plan testing: Test the plan, train company personnel in its use, and modify the plan as new and more effective responses are identified.

A pandemic response and recovery plan is designed to minimize the disruption to the business, protect employees, maintain a positive cash flow for as long as possible, and to give the company a competitive advantage over those who have failed to plan.

-- Wilson is a certified management consultant, trainer, writer, educator, and speaker with more than 24 years of experience in helping companies grow and prosper. A specialist in the area of business pandemic preparedness, he has helped over 400 companies plan against the impact of pandemics on their businesses. Wilson can be contacted at (763) 476-2216 or by email to ken@wmg-mn.com.

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Comments: 2

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