Business Continuity In A Flu Pandemic

Fellow Blog Idol Contestant Don Sheppard left a post the other day, commenting on the flurry of Twitter and gadget-oriented posts during this year’s competition and questioned what fellow contest bloggers think about in their “day jobs”. While I have to admit to occasionally dwelling on the fact that I don’t own an iPhone while sitting at my desk, one of my main concerns recently has been updating the Business Continuity Plan in light of concerns surrounding the current flu outbreak.

The flurry of news reports swirling around about the global transmission of the Swine Flu, and the worryingly rapid march towards pandemic levels as measured by the WHO likely give most IT Professionals, Development Managers, and even Independent Consultants pause to consider their own Business Continuity Plans. An often overlooked extension of the Disaster Recovery Plan, business continuity focuses on maintaining business operations during times of natural or human-made disasters related to weather, significant illness, civil unrest, or even – since Sept. 11 – terrorist actions.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto, many local businesses were caught unprepared with little in the way of advanced planning to guide them determining the best course of action even as the cases of the illness (or at least the reports of them) appeared to be increasing at an alarming rate. It was probably the first time I personally noticed companies taking a very serious look at how to continue operations should a significant portion of staff fall ill to the virus.

There are certainly a myrid of ways to respond to events that affect business continuity, including ignoring them I suppose. Though I would suggest that it is extremely beneficial for any company, regardless of size, to give some thought to how they can protect themselves in times of trouble, or at least manage and mitigate the negative effects.

For example, as a minimum level of protection, some businesses divide up key personnel and incorporate them into cross-departmental teams that alternate working from the office and at home on a weekly basis. Of course, alternating between the office and home is only effective if it suits the business model, and if you are able to ensure that the office is disinfected properly as teams switch between the two locations. Others, dispense alcohol-based hand disinfectant gels of the type used in hospitals to staff members who have frequent contact with other employees, like the Helpdesk team or Independent Consultants.

There are a number of excellent references on the web to assist companies in the development of a Business Continuity Plan. For good general descriptions of the consideration surrounding illness and pandemics specifically, take a look at Tony Bradley’s article, “Business Continuity During an Epidemic or Pandemic“. The Canadian Government also offers some guidance in this area on the Public Safety Canada site, as well as a link to additional resources available from other governments and agencies.

Of course, now that I have finished assisting in the update of my company’s Business Continuity Plan, I can turn my vocational attention to more important, and typically less dark topics… Twitter, anyone?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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