Are you prepared for how a pandemic might affect your organization?
During the past decade we have witness a rise of new sub-types of influenza viruses, including some which have shown the ability to be transferred from animal to animal, then animal to human, and finally human-to-human. The result has been a growing concern among health officials of a possible pandemic outbreak. This past month, Saudi Arabian health officials reported five more people died after contracting an often-fatal Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus and the number of new infections in the kingdom continues to increase. To date, thirteen nation-states (Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, and Yemen) have reported cases or MERS or evidence of infection since December 2013. Health officials’ analysis to date suggests that MERS does not yet have pandemic potential but bears very close watching and very rigorous measures to contain it.
Pandemics have been reported for many hundreds of years.
The best-documented pandemics occurred in 1918 (H1N1, the Spanish flu),1957 (H2N2, the Asian flu) and 1968 (H3N2, the Hong Kong flu). During the 20th century, influenza pandemics caused millions of deaths,social disruption and profound economic losses worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) both agree that another pandemic is likely to happen but are unable to say when.The specific characteristics of a future pandemic virus cannot be predicted. Nobody knows how pathogenic a new virus would be, and which age groups it would affect. A pandemic could occur when avian and human influenza viruses exchange genes giving rise to a completely new subtype of the influenza virus to which few, if any, humans would have natural immunity. Unfortunately, existing influenza vaccines would not be effective against a completely new influenza virus and experts believe that it would take several months to develop an effective vaccine and to vaccinate the population with it. The level of preparedness will influence the final death toll. However, even in one of the more conservative scenarios, the World Health Organization (WHO)calculates that the world will face up to 233 million outpatient visits, 5.2million hospital admissions and 7.4 million deaths globally, within a very short period.In addition to their human toll, pandemics can have a major effect on the global economy, including travel, trade, tourism, food, consumption and eventually, investment and financial markets. In the past decades our nation has experienced terrorist attacks and natural disasters, which caused extensive loss of life and property damage. As significantly damaging as these events were, for the most part they were limited to specific geographical area and different segments of the United States (federal, state, private organizations) not affected by the events were able to respond and provide assistance. Influenza pandemic is different; it will be widespread and will affect multiple countries of the world and many different areas of the United States, all at the same time. The pandemic will also be an extended event, with multiple waves of outbreaks in the same geographical area. Based on the history of previous pandemic, we can expect that each outbreak could last from 6 to 8 weeks and waves of outbreaks may occur over a year or more.
Your workplace will likely experience high employee absenteeism, significant disruption of vendor support and critical supplies, changes in customer requirements, and possible restrictions imposed by health and public safety officials.
Business continuity planning has become an established and respected disciple to most successful organizations. These plans are often based on the premises that infrastructure and communications are suddenly put out of action. That will not be the case in a pandemic. In a pandemic, it will be people rather than infrastructure that will become unavailable. Therefore, a different type of continuity plan is needed—a “pandemic plan.” A pandemic plan is a documented strategy for business continuity in the event of a widespread outbreak of a dangerous infectious disease. It lays out how a business will continue to provide essential services through a sustained period with significant employee absenteeism.
In our next session, we will discuss some of the key elements that should be considered for pandemic planning and follow-on exercises.