Planning for a pandemic

Disaster preparedness and business continuity planning revolves mainly around two things: Ensuring that IT systems and data are accessible from any location in case of disaster, and ensuring that the people are available to continue running the company on a day-to-day basis. A good deal of preparation involves ensuring that data and applications are backed up and archived, and that communications systems are in place to allow for remote connectivity. In other words, technology is a big part of it.

But technology is only part of the equation. Without people available to run the technology, the company is lost. The recent swine flu epidemic has highlighted the need for awareness of another type of disaster—one that does not involve loss of data or loss of systems, but rather, loss of personnel. A workforce shortage can occur from many different causes, including labor strikes, the breakdown of the transportation infrastructure, or widespread illness or pandemic.

In reality, if you’ve created a good business continuity plan, you’re already set for pandemic, even if you may not have considered it in your initial strategy session. The most obvious piece of technology to implement in anticipation of a pandemic is remote connectivity, but there is more to it. The US Department of Health and Human Services offers a useful checklist for businesses wanting to prepare for a pandemic on its web site at

The checklist notes six areas to consider, as follows:

1. Plan for the impact of a pandemic on your business

2. Plan for the impact of a pandemic on your employees and customers

3. Establish policies to be implemented during a pandemic

4. Allocate resources to protect your employees and customers during a pandemic

5. Communicate to and educate your employees

6. Coordinate with external organizations and help your community

Additional technology considerations may call for implementation of videoconferencing or teleconferencing equipment. This is of course, often used even in ordinary circumstances, but even if day-to-day business doesn’t call for heavy use of teleconferencing, making sure it’s available will ensure preparedness in case of emergency. Following this, make sure trunk capacity of your phone systems are adequate to handle a sudden increase in teleconferencing, or that capacity can be added without delay when it is required.

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