RealTime IT News

Most Companies Ill Prepared for Pandemic

If the avian flu became an epidemic here, or worse, a worldwide pandemic, is your company prepared?

Most likely the answer is no, and that's a big problem according to Basex, a New York-based research firm that specializes in collaborative business environments.

In a report released this week, Basex says eighty percent of large companies worldwide are ill-prepared for business continuity in the event of a pandemic type event. Basex is making the report, "Strengthening Corporate Pandemic Preparedness and Response" for free at its Web site.

"People hear about things like the SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] virus and pretend nothing is wrong and the emperor has really nice clothes," Jonathan Spira, CEO and chief analyst at Basex told internetnews.com. "But people need to think about planning. The time to install IT infrastructure is not in the middle of a pandemic."

The report includes two case studies. One details work that IBM has done which Spira says is "about as prepared as a company could be." The other is about New York City, which Spira is highly critical of for its "thou shalt not tele-work" policy for its 350,000 employees.

IBM has instituted what it calls a "collaborative business environment" which enables many of its 320,000 to work remotely as the need arises.

"Most people at IBM could work from home and the business would not suffer," said Mike Wing, vice president of strategic communications at IBM, in the report. "On any given day, more than 40 percent of the company's workforce does not report to an IBM facility."

Spira attributes the lack of preparedness at most companies to not taking the threat seriously enough. But, as the residents of New Orleans found out this year, and New Yorkers affected by this week's transit strike, bad things can strike unexpectedly.

Spira emphasizes that the big calamities, like a pandemic, are very different than a temporary incident like the transit strike. "I'm talking about something that can lead to absenteeism up to 25 to 30 percent above the normal rate over an extended period, like months."

But there are no cookie cutter, standard approaches to preparedness. Spira says he wanted to make the report available to help get a dialogue going because most companies haven't taken even basic steps to deal with a pandemic.

There is also a potential ripple effect of various public entities not being ready; for example, Spira notes most hospitals operate on a just-in-time basis. "They really don't have supply rooms anymore."

Some simple first steps a large company can take is to reevaluate some of its human resources policies. Spira notes a company that prohibits telecommuting and limits sick leave could face additional problems if a pandemic strikes. For example, some employees coming down with the flu might report to work because they've run out of sick leave benefits and spread the disease to others.