According to historians, the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic, which killed nearly 50 million people worldwide, may have originated from emigrating Chinese laborers. According to a study published in The Lancet, a pandemic similar to the one that occurred in 1918 would kill nearly 62 million people today.
In recent weeks, China has seen a spike in H7N9 cases and experts are worried that infections will continue to rise. The World Health Organization warned the H7N9 virus was one of the most lethal that doctors and medical investigators had faced in recent years. Just as in 1918, the threat of a pandemic is real.
As seen throughout history and most recently with the 2009 H1N1 virus, a pandemic threat can impact all aspects of society and its economy. It creates uncertainty and breeds fear. A pandemic’s geographic target, demographic impacts, rate of occurrence, and number of fatalities vary with each strain. However, proactive measures, such as preparedness, can diminish general uncertainties and allows for an established plan to counteract specific threats. In the event that a health crisis emerges, pandemic and business continuity plans can work in conjunction to maximum the potential of continuity of operations. The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to emphasize the need for preparedness measures in regards to pandemic planning.
In 2012, WHO published an article entitled “Cost–Effectiveness Analysis of Pandemic Influenza Preparedness: What’s Missing?”. The article concluded that impoverished countries, non-pharmaceutical interventions, health system capacity, and pandemic uncertainty are the trigger elements for lack of pandemic preparedness. The paper continues to say “as the control of communicable disease progresses, preparedness measures for epidemic events become increasingly important because the decreased burden of communicable disease increases the number of susceptible individuals and hence the risk outbreaks.” Simply stated, pandemic preparedness is essential for minimizing the spread of viral outbreaks.
Companies can contribute to minimizing the spread of a pandemic. By documenting response plan procedures and methods specific to a pandemic outbreak among the local population and/or the local workforce/contractors, companies can minimize disruption to normal operations and further limit the viral spread.
Specifically, the purpose of a Pandemic Response Plan is to:
- Identify how additional resources and personnel will be made available to support the organization.
- Identify how internal and external communications will be maintained.
- Identify how the reputation impact will be managed during and after the outbreak.
- Identify how the technical and commercial implications of the outbreak will be managed, and where in the organization this support will be obtained.
When developing a Pandemic Response Plan, it is useful to define impact levels. Example Levels are as follows:
- Level 1 - Normal Operations, which include contact verification with key stakeholder (both internal and external) and conducting pandemic plan briefings
- Level 2 - Business as usual with staff directed to work from remote locations, if feasible
- Level 3 - Business as usual with limited on-site staff. (Only essential employees who cannot work remotely would report on-site)
- Level 4 - Emergency Service Level with normal levels of operation with minimum staffing.
- Level 5 - All non-critical operations are suspended and critical business processes are examined for those that can be suspended.
- Level 6 - Return to normal operations after situational assessment.
As seen in 1918 and multiple times throughout history, global trade and interconnectivity have social and economic impacts. Despite the advantages of a globally connected world, a preparedness program should address the multiple threats that go hand-in-hand with interconnectivity dependencies, including the potential for a pandemic.
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