Monday, June 2, 2014


Is it bird flu,
Is it MERS,
Does it make a difference?


The Threat du Jour is MERS - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

In ancient history - circa 2007 - the threat was avian influenza, a/k/a bird flu.

(Much before that - circa 1918 - it was the misnamed "Spanish Flu.")

I wasn't around in 1918 (no, I'm not THAT old), but I was around for the bird flu scare and, as did too many - most? - risk management practitioners, I started looking for ways to counter the threat.

Wash hands while singing "Happy Birthday."

Wear masks.

Avoid crowds.

Etcetera, et al, and all the similar inclusiveness words.

It's probably not necessary to my point - and I'll get to it shortly - but some words about MERS from people who know.

According to the U.S. CDC(&P), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of people confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection have died.

A coronavirus is, again according to the CDC&P, Coronaviruses are common viruses that most people get some time in their life. Human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.

The CDC&P has much more online; go forth and read.

But what about risk management practitioners? How should we prepare ourselves and our clients to face the threat?

First, what is the threat? Actually what are the threats. Let me count the ways.

  1. Absenteeism
    • Of personnel
    • Of vendors
    • Of clients

  2. Inability to perform critical functions due to equipment failure
    • Hardware failures
    • Infrastructure (Internet) failure
    • Power failures
    • That cannot be repaired/replaced due to lack of healthy personnel.

As with the avian influenza, MERS has a a fairly high fatality rate; 30% according to the CDC&P. However it seems to be less contagious than the bird flu.

Those practitioners who, often lacking Very Senior Management support, maintained the information gathered together for the bird flu are way ahead of the game as MERS threatens.

Practitioners who planned for the bird flu's impact are almost home free.

In manufacturing facilities, the practitioners know to recommend to management to slightly increase the on-hand supply of raw materials. They also know that, when possible, to stage completed product are geographically distant locations - not across the street or even across town, but 100 or more miles away.

Office personnel need the option to work someplace other than the office. Equally, they must be trained to the point that they are confident in working off site - knowing how to access the systems from a remote locations.

One company insisted that its personnel with off-site access actually access the company's systems remotely at least once every several months.

It should, but it won't, go without saying that the IT infrastructure needs to be evaluated in light of any new load or security changes/upgrades.

The practitioner needs to monitor the CDC&P and WHO to track the spread of MERS - and other mobile maladies - and to keep both management and staff aware. It is important to avoid panic on the part of anyone in the organization.

All personnel need to know the symptoms and all personnel need to know how management will react if someone contracts MERS - or any other contagious disease.

If personnel need to be furloughed, what will the organization provide?

HR questions must be considered, including:

  • Will furloughed personnel lose vacation time
  • Will furloughed personnel receive full or reduced pay
  • How will pay be made if direct deposit is not used by some employees
  • How will personnel be notified of furloughs, call-backs

The four questions, above, are just the tip of the iceberg. BUT, these are questions that should have been addressed when the bird flu was a threat.

As King Solomon is alleged to have uttered: אין שום חדש תחת השמש - There is nothing new under the sun.

I wonder what the medical threat du jour was in Solomon's time. There surely was one - or more.

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