Swine Flu – A good reason to check your Business Continuity Plan

Industry analyst Gartner has advised that Enterprises should not overreact to the worldwide swine flu outbreak and the media attention surrounding it. But they should take this event as a wake-up call and review and test their pandemic response plans.

On 27 April 2009, governments and public health authorities worldwide were preparing for the anticipated spread of AH1N1 influenza (swine flu). The outbreak is currently centered in Mexico, where AH1N1 influenza is believed to have caused more than 100 deaths, but the disease is known to have spread to the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere.

The swine flu outbreak is not yet a pandemic and may never become one but the media attention paid to it is already affecting enterprises. For example, declining oil prices are being attributed to fears of a disease-driven slowdown, and the European Union has issued travel warnings for the U.S. and Mexico. A true pandemic could cause absenteeism rates of 40% or higher for enterprises and their business partners and suppliers, resulting in severe operational disruptions. For this reason, enterprises must recognize the urgent need to develop and implement pandemic response planning.

Enterprises, governments and regulatory agencies should not make panic-driven moves for example, closing down operations in response to possibly overblown media reports. But business continuity management (BCM) and disaster recovery (DR) professionals and other stakeholders should use the widespread concern over the swine flu to increase enterprise awareness of the potential business impact of a widespread outbreak of disease. A recent Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) study found that only 12% of participating institutions had “very effective” plans in place. Nonetheless, financial services is one of the few industries that have undertaken serious pandemic response planning, and the FFIEC study is the only large-scale testing of such plans yet conducted.

Enterprises in all regions and across all industries should review their BCM/DR pandemic response plans. Senior executives, line-of-business managers and other high-level decision-makers should be made aware of the seriousness of this pandemic preparation, to ensure a broad, ongoing commitment to this effort.

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