With pandemic alert, firms urged to review disaster recovery

The majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery

With the first flu pandemic in 41 years officially declared today by The World Health Organization (WHO), companies are again being urged to make sure that business continuity plans are in place and they're prepared for the outbreak.

As the number of H1N1 influenza cases neared 30,000 worldwide, the WHO raised the pandemic warning level from phase five to six -- its highest alert.

That prompted Gartner Inc. ot tell its clients to review their procedures for dealing with a pandemic, such as identifying critical-skill employees and their replacements -- and emphasizing good hygiene. Otherwise, it said, companies should stay the course.

"It's hard to advise clients to take huge additional actions at this time," said Roberta Witty, a vice president of research at Gartner Inc.

"Continue to do what you're already doing until we start seeing many more infections, sick people and deaths."

On June 3, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were reporting cases of H1N1 infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). While nationwide, flu surveillance systems indicate that the overall number of cases is decreasing, H1N1 outbreaks are ongoing in parts of the country, some of them intense, the CDC said in a aemstnt.

Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said in a statement that the pandemic, at least in its early days, will be moderate.

"As we know from experience, severity can vary, depending on many factors, from one country to another," she said. "On present evidence, the overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment."

The WHO urged countries not to close borders or restrict travel and trade. The WHO also said it is in close talks with flu vaccine makers "to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come."

Gartner's Witty said corporations do not need to take any added measures to combat the flu pandemic. "I think what the [WHO and CDC] are saying is two things: one, this is the flue season in the southern hemisphere, so we need to watch that region. Two, this virus mutates, and ... the avian flu can attach to it, which could mean during the next fall flu season, we may see more avian flu cases through swine flu transmission."

Gartner is urging corporations to:

  • Visit the CDC's pandemic flu Web site to find out what the U.S. government recommends to ensure workforce safety and continuous business operations.

  • Download the FFIEC's Pandemic Flu Exercise of 2007 After Action Report and disseminate their findings across your organization.

  • Emphasize the need for personal hygiene to inhibit the spread of the virus.

  • Identify existing and potential critical skills shortages and start staff cross-training, testing and certification. Make sure that cross-trained personnel can access needed applications. This requires the longest lead-time and can be disruptive.

  • Determine which business operations are sustainable, at what level, and likely durations of downtime for normal business operations with staff absentee rates of 40 per cent. Test for various combinations of leaders and skilled staff.

  • Testing should begin now to isolate and correct any possible problem areas to make sure work continues smoothly.

To date, there have been 27,737 cases of swine flue confirmed in 74 countries, accounting for 141 deaths, according to the WHO.

Unlike past flu outbreaks, the most severe cases of H1N1 have been recorded in people under 25 years of age.

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