Enterprise security executives can take steps today to anticipate the potential threat from avian flu.
A flu pandemic, or global outbreak of disease, occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. The disease spreads easily person-to-person, causes serious illness, and can sweep across the country and around the world in very short time. It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be. Wherever and whenever a pandemic starts, everyone around the world is at risk.
Countries and businesses might, through measures such as border closures and travel restrictions, delay arrival of the virus, but they cannot stop it. Health professionals are concerned that the continued spread of a highly pathogenic avian H5N1 virus across eastern Asia and other countries represents a significant threat to human health. The H5N1 virus has raised concerns about a potential human pandemic because:
- It is especially virulent
- It is being spread by migratory birds
- It can be transmitted from birds to mammals and, in some limited circumstances, to humans, and
- Like other influenza viruses, it continues to evolve.
Since 2003, a growing number of human H5N1 cases have been reported in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. More than half of the people infected with the H5N1 virus have died. Most of these cases are believed to have been caused by exposure to infected poultry. There has been no sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease, but the concern is that H5N1 will evolve into a virus capable of human-to-human transmission.
In the event of pandemic influenza, businesses will play a key role in protecting employees’ health and safety, as well as limiting the negative impact to the economy and society. Planning for pandemic influenza is critical. Companies that provide critical infrastructure services, such as power and telecommunications, have a special responsibility to plan for continued operation in a crisis and should plan accordingly. As with any catastrophe, having a contingency plan is essential.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed guidelines, including a checklist, to assist businesses in planning for a pandemic outbreak as well as for other comparable catastrophes.
“By now you have read the world headlines; ‘More than 100 million birds in affected countries have either died from the Avian flu or were killed in order to try to control the outbreaks’ or ‘First human case of Avian flu results in death,’ and realized that they were talking about Vietnam, Thailand or some other Asian country,” said Scott R. Gane, CPP, Initial Security. “‘Those countries are half a world away and while it’s unfortunate for them, it doesn’t affect me.’
“With that type of thinking you are putting your business at serious risk if you do not, at the very least, update your disaster management and business continuity plans to address this fast moving and mutating virus.”
According to Gane, the following will guide enterprises in addressing general and specific activities they can do in preparing for the Avian Flu (or other business continuity issues):
- Consider the impact of a pandemic on the business
- Assign a pandemic coordinator/team
- Identify critical business functions that need to be maintained
- Train and prepare ancillary workforce
- “What if?” financial impact – set thresholds
- Company response plan – use triggers and procedures for activating and terminating plan
- Emergency communications plan
- Training and test the plan
- Consider the impact of a pandemic on employees and customers
- Forecast employee absences (consider external factors as well)
- Employee access (and availability) to healthcare (improve as needed)
- Identify key customers with special needs, incorporate into the plan
- Where possible, modify the frequency of face-to-face contact
Polices (New and/or Updated)
- Establish polices to be implemented during a pandemic
- Policy for flexible worksite (where possible)
- Revised IT policy and infrastructure to allow employees to work from home
- Policy for preventing spread while at work (cough etiquette, etc.)
- Policy for restricting travel
- Policy for employees who have been exposed, are suspected to be ill or become ill at work
Communication & Education
- Develop platforms (e.g. hotlines, dedicated web sites) for communicating pandemic status and actions for employees
- Ensure communications are culturally and linguistically appropriate
- Develop and disseminate materials covering pandemic fundamentals (signs & symptoms of influenza, hand hygiene, contingency plans)
- Develop and disseminate materials for the at -home care of ill employees (and family members)
The main purpose of the communication plan is to limit the fear and anxiety of employees, as well as mitigate rumors and misinformation.