Flu Pandemic: Is Your Company's Business Continuity Plan Ready?

Rob Enderle

As we get started this week, we seem to be facing a very real possibility that a pandemic is breaking out. One hundred dead and 1,600 infected in Mexico, with instances (so far mild) across the U.S. and showing up in parts of Europe drive home the point that this is now a worldwide event. Practices that have been in place for decades could become killers, not just of people but of companies. It is time we asked ourselves whether we are ready.


Coming to Work Sick


People commonly are expected to come to work when they are sick and are often viewed as slackers or fakers when they stay home with an illness. Granted, there are those who take advantage of sick-day policies, particularly when there is a fixed number of paid sick days allowed. But when you have a disease where there is a lack of natural immunity spreading fast, all it takes is one person to infect a department -- and that department a company, community or nation. If people don't feel well, they should stay home. Pandemic or not, this is something that should stay changed.


Staying Home Well


One of the ways to limit the spread of diseases like this one is to avoid forcing a lot of people into the same small space. If you have an outbreak, the people who weren't at work will likely survive it and can keep the company running. This would suggest that if there ever was a time to suddenly get liberal when it comes to work-at-home policies, now would be a good time to make that happen. Over the years, more and more companies have allowed people to work from home; doing it successfully is no longer the exception it once was. In the past, is was considered a job perk and a way to eliminate office capital costs. Now it may be a way to save the company.


Enabling Work at Home: Where Is Your Plan?


Outside of IT's own policies about allowing IT employees to work from home, IT can proactively look at ways to inexpensively enable remote workers. Laptop pools can be enhanced, the shift to laptop computers increased, and procedures to allow employees to gain access to certain company resources remotely prioritized and, if needed, implemented.


Do you know how quickly and by what method you could shift a substantial portion (say 75 percent or more) of your employees to a work-at-home system? Do you even know what the maximum percentage of employees who could effectively work at home is? The hardware/software/services they would need? Do you have a plan to put this together in hours? You should because if this goes vertical you won't have months, weeks or days; you'll have hours to protect the company and you need to have a plan in place before the CEO says "execute." In fact, ideally you'll want to provide him or her with a set of options prior to this outbreak becoming a catastrophe so that measured decisions can be made.


Video Conferencing/Telepresence


Now would be a great time to propose cancelling all non-critical travel and putting in place a policy that requires 48 hours' (incubation period of the swine flu virus) work at home after a trip on an airplane. Any airplane.


You see, it doesn't really matter where the plane came from; it matters where the people who are on it were and what they picked up. Generally, when people get sick, they want to go home and planes are the place they go to first. Planes are closed environments where lots of people, from all over the world, sit together. You may want to circulate virus safe plane travel suggestions.


If you have a Web conferencing or telepresence system, it will likely be in much higher demand shortly. If you don't, you may want to see if there are options where you can use a partner's or rent time in one to keep employees out of planes. At this point, you don't really have the time to get budget justification, buy one, and get it installed, but next budgeting cycle, you may want to up the priority on this as the pandemic problem is likely to reoccur.


Wrapping up and Reading Material


There is a book out written for the avian flu, "Preparing for Pandemic Avian Flu: Family and Neighborhood Readiness Workbook," recommended by the New York Times. It appears to have good recommendation interspersed with comments (suggesting firearms and tasers) that will probably scare the crap out of you.


The Pandemic Web site (focused on governments and still the avian flu) has a number of strong recommendations. And an OSHA site is focused on this subject for business (also based on the similar avian flu concerns). This last tosses around numbers like 40 percent of people being unable to work at the peak of an infection and employee deaths probably not being reported in a timely manner. Not comfortable thoughts, but ones you should be having now so you can limit the damage to both the employees and the company.


I know we seem to be constantly worried about threats that don't actually result in massive death. The problem is that if one of these things does reach pandemic proportions, the excuse for not being ready of "I didn't take it seriously" will not only seem lame but clearly not offset the very real possibility that the life you didn't save was your own. Don't put this off; make sure your organization has a plan that can be executed in hours to protect your most important asset.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 27, 2009 3:27 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:

CDC just raised risk to stage 4, stage 5 is a Pandemic.  

TALGLOBAL, a Risk Managment consultancy just sent the following email out. I'm posting here becuase it provides good guidance. 


The level of the recent outbreak of a new strain of Swine Flu has been upgraded to Pandemic Phase 4, due to confirmed human to human transmission.It is clearly important to focus on what to do at this point and how to respond should the flu spread, as would be the case in Pandemic Level 5.There is no question that this outbreak poses a serious potential threat, but a calm, reasoned approach to crisis is always preferable to panic.TAL Global suggests the following:

1.Gather the facts and stay informed.It is important to keep things in perspective by monitoring what is actually occurring as opposed to what people think is happening.

The best place to start is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.

The World Health Organization also provides some useful information at


ASIS has a useful link to Swine Flu updates on the upper right-hand corner of its home page at


Some common facts that sometimes get lost in the media reports:

-As of April 27, 2009, only 40 cases have been identified in the United States.Of these 40 cases, 28 of them are in New York City.All cases reported have had a connection with recent travel to Mexico.The same is true of cases reported in Canada.The cases have all been mild and no hospitalization has been required.

-The recent declaration of a public health emergency by the US Government grants authorities resources to monitor the spread of the disease and prepare for a potential pandemic.It does not mean that a pandemic exists or is necessarily imminent.

-The World Health Organization (WHO) has just today (April 27, 2009) changed its Pandemic Alert level from Phase 3 to Phase 4.www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/phase/en/index.html Phase 4 is sustained human to human transmission.Pandemic begins at Phase 5.

-There is no connection between pork and the flu.The World Health Organization states that properly cooked pork poses no risk of catching swine flu.

2.Assess your risk exposure.Do you do business with Mexico, the source of the outbreak?Do your suppliers?If a pandemic does occur, what will be the impact on your staff, your suppliers and your customers?

3.Review your policies and plans for dealing with a pandemic.If you don't have a plan, now might be a good time to put one in place.If you do have a plan, now would be a good time to review that plan for supplies that may need to be procured but have not yet been purchased, e.g.PPE, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers.It would also be a good time to review that plan to ensure it addresses a rate of 30%-40% absenteeism for 1-2 weeks in the next 12 months.Another factor to consider is how work will be impacted if schools and day care centers are suddenly closed for 1-2 weeks to prevent the spread of infection. Reply

Apr 27, 2009 3:28 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Make sure employees are aware of your plans and know what their role is if the plans have to be implemented.

4.Activate your crisis communications plan at a low level.If nothing else, your employees need reassurance that you are aware of the problem and are doing something about it.Depending on your type of business, your customers may need the same assurances.Consider regular factual updates to your employees to offset the rumors they will be hearing.

5.If you do business with Mexico, make sure personnel are monitored for signs of the flu and see a doctor if symptoms appear.While there are no current restrictions on travel to Mexico, consider limiting non-essential business travel or temporarily stopping travel all together.

6.Educate employees on precautionary measures.Make sure they know the symptoms for flu and encourage them to stay home if sick, and to seek medical attention if symptoms are present.Emphasize good hygiene practices in the work place.An excellent source of material is the CDC's "Ounce of Prevention" website, which contains simple and thoughtful instructions on hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and cleaning.Brochures and posters are free and can be downloaded from the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/ounceofprevention/.To prevent the spread of germs:

-Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

-Wash your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand-cleaners, especially after you cough or sneeze.

-Avoid close contact with sick people.If you are sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

-Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

7.Recognize the signs and symptoms.Flu is generally accompanied by the following signs and symptoms:fever, cough, chills, headache, weakness, diarrhea and rhinorrhea (running nose and sore throat).

8.Stay home if you are sick.Given the current economic instability and uncertainty, many employees may feel obligated to come to work, even if they do not feel well and have flu symptoms.In this situation, coming to work sick should be discouraged.Employees who have flu-like symptoms should seek treatment from their physician and remain at home until cleared to return to work.

9.If you don't have a pandemic plan-consider developing one.While the plan may not be ready in time to deal with the current Swine Flu situation, it will help you cope with the next outbreak.

Please go to the following Google map which shows the H1N1 Swine Flu where reported:


TAL Global is committed to assisting clients in preparing and managing crises of all types.We believe that being prepared helps avoid disaster and, at times, creates new opportunities.If you need assistance in Crisis Management Planning, Communications Plan, Notification and overall process, please call us at 408.993.1300.

For more information about us and reference materials log on to www.talglobal.com

May 7, 2013 1:15 PM budrey budrey  says:
Make sure that your employee first are healthy enough to go for office and if there is someone getting sick then the company alternatives will go into position. Working at home through laptops and internet for the company is very good recommendation so that the employees can still work in the home even at sick and the good thing is the sick employee will not spread the flu in his co employee since they are working at home. Reply

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