Thursday, January 5, 2012


Dust off pandemic plans


My email just delivered notifications that a version of the avian influenza - bird flu - is making the rounds.

In separate emails , I read that

  • A Chinese bus driver who tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus died Saturday in a city bordering Hong Kong, health officials said, in the country's first reported case of the disease in humans in 18 months.
  • The Ministry of Health and Population of Egypt has notified WHO of a case of human infection with avian influenza A (H5N1) virus.‪ The case is a 29-year-old male from Dakahlia Governorate. He developed symptoms on 8 December 2011 and was admitted to hospital on 15 December 2011, where he received oseltamivir treatment. He was in critical condition and died on 19 December 2011.

It's time to dust off those Pandemic Plans so carefully crafted in 2008 and start the update process.

If the organization really is risk conscious, it won't have a Pandemic Plan.

Blasphemy? Heresy?

Not really.

Progressive organizations - and that means businesses, governments, non-profits, charities, and any other grouping you can conjure - have an Enterprise Risk Management Program that is kept up-to-date, and that considers all risks.

ALL risks?

OK, no one can think of every risk. That's why smart practitioners insist that programs involve all personnel - from the Board Room and Executive Suite to the newest intern and the organization's key personnel - the cleaning crew.

There are several things about a pandemic that set it apart from the typical "empty office" scenario.

  • It travels at the speed of flight.

  • It impacts vendors, customers, and intermediaries.

  • It can return again and again, albeit usually with less impact each time.

  • Buildings get "sick" and require treatment before they can be reoccupied.

In some respects, the pandemic looks like an "empty office" event. The building may be standing, but it cannot be occupied. There are a number of other risks that can have the same impact.

In some respects, the pandemic looks like a simple flu epidemic, but it is more virulent than the average winter flu. Personnel might be protected from the standard flu strain by the "best guess" anti-flu shots promoted by the government. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), claims that "The U.S. 2010-2011 seasonal influenza vaccine will protect against an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus, and the 2009 H1N1 virus that emerged last year to cause the first global pandemic in more than 40 years and resulted in substantial illness, hospitalizations and deaths."

What to do?

First, try to protect personnel.

Find out what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to combat the flu - both the "standard" Asian variety and the H1N5 variety. Start with the CDC Website at; it has information from the 2009 threat.

Cross training should be a priority. While cross training, make certain managers are up-to-date with the functions of the people they supervise.

Develop a succession plan. Encourage managers at all levels to name an alternate, someone who has the manager's authority and the manager's confidence to make decisions in the manager's absence. Again, the absence can be for any reason. The manager must announce the alternate - even "alternate du jour" if the manager wants to rotate the assignment - so the decision will be clear to everyone.

Review and, if necessary, update policies and procedures.

A good risk management practitioner, with management cooperation, can do a lot to assure that the organization will be able to meet at least a minimum level of service.

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