WAYNE, Pa., Oct. 26 -- With the fall and winter influenza season already underway, the Centers for Disease Control and
The Harvard School of Public Health recently released a study that found many U.S. businesses are not prepared to deal with widespread employee absenteeism in the event of an outbreak of H1N1. Researchers found only one-third of companies surveyed believe they could sustain their businesses without severe operational problems if half their workforce were absent for two weeks due to H1N1. Just one-fifth of respondents believe they could avoid such problems for one month with half their employees out.
One starting point for organizations to improve their pandemic preparedness is to note how it differs from traditional disaster planning, which primarily focuses on preparedness of assets, such as buildings and information systems, in response to physical events including hurricanes, power outages and computer failures.
"People are the most vulnerable resources in a pandemic -- and this extends beyond staff to cover their families that may need care and attention to business partners which may be unavailable to deliver much-needed services to customers whose demand for products may be impacted by a pandemic," said James A. MacMicking, director, consulting services at SunGard Availability Services.
Another critical planning difference between pandemic and traditional disaster planning is a pandemic typically generates waves of impact while an event such as a utility power failure is generally contained in one occurrence.
"The peak of the first wave of the H1N1 virus hit the United States in April, May and June, and experts are predicting a new wave with the coming flu season. This approach means organizations need to establish 'trigger points' in their pandemic plans which provide signals that when a set of circumstances occurs, it serves as the trigger to start preplanned response activities," said MacMicking.
Other key considerations in pandemic planning include:
Enterprise Planning. Company policies, such as human resources and legal, need to be addressed at a business-wide level to ensure consistency with corporate and regulatory requirements. For example, a company policy may require any employee out three or more days to provide a doctor's slip to return to work. During a pandemic, a doctor may not be readily available to provide the slip -- an organization should have a corporate policy on whether employees can return to work or not without the slip due to these circumstances.
Communications. Similar to planning for other disasters, communications is an area of top importance in pandemic planning. Organizations need a communications strategy that addresses both global and local communications issues since pandemic waves will impact different regions at different times. An inward communications system is essential so critical employees can contact an organization regarding their availability. For instance, if an area's schools close down, that would have a dramatic impact on an absentee rate -- including even healthy employees.
Business Operations. The areas of the business that generate revenue and provide customer service must be prepared for people missing on the frontlines. Pandemic plans need to include flexible arrangements to move staff to work in different roles to keep the business going. This means individuals may be thrust into roles for which they have little or no formal training. Managers and supervisors need to be prepared for these conditions -- including how to mitigate mistakes and unsafe work practices from untrained workers.
About SunGard Availability Services
SunGard Availability Services provides disaster recovery services, managed IT services, information availability consulting services and business continuity management software to more than 10,000 customers in North America and Europe. With five million square feet of datacenter and operations space, SunGard assists IT organizations across virtually all industry and government sectors to prepare for and recover from emergencies by helping them minimize their computer downtime and optimize their uptime. Through direct sales and channel partners, we help organizations ensure their people and customers have uninterrupted access to the information systems they need in order to do business. To learn more, visit www.availability.sungard.com or call 1-800-468-7483.
SunGard is one of the world's leading software and IT services companies. SunGard serves more than 25,000 customers in more than 70 countries.
SunGard provides software and processing solutions for financial services, higher education and the public sector. SunGard also provides disaster recovery services, managed IT services, information availability consulting services and business continuity management software.
With annual revenue exceeding $5 billion, SunGard is ranked 435 on the Fortune 500 and is the largest privately held business software and services company on the Forbes list of private businesses. Based on information compiled by Datamonitor*, SunGard is the third largest provider of business applications software after Oracle and SAP. Continuity, Insurance & Risk has recognized SunGard as service provider of the year an unprecedented six times. For more information, please visit SunGard at www.sungard.com.
* January 2009 Technology Vendors Financial Database Tracker http://www.datamonitor.com
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