Posted by: Anthony Drewery | July 21, 2009

Swine flu pandemic contingency planning

Pandemic contingency planning should form part of your business continuity plan but is often overlooked. However, with the current press about swine flu and the government’s predicted impact it has now risen to the top of many organisation’s agendas.

When putting a contingency plan together three areas you may want to consider are:

  • Reduction of personnel.
  • Remote access to critical systems.
  • Support and maintenance with a reduced IT team.

Reduction of personnel

Many companies, including my employer, are planning for a loss of 25% of the workforce. This could be due to illness or them having to care for family members. With talk in the press of schools possibly being closed in September there is a very real risk that parents will have to stay home to look after their children.

Some thoughts around this area:

  • Identify which roles are critical for the business to function through a pandemic.
  • Identify if non-critical personnel have the skills, or can be trained, to support critical functions. In my organisation many staff have risen through the Sales Centre so with a bit of refresher training could step in to make up a personnel shortage.
  • Can any of the critical roles be fulfilled remotely or part time? If someone has to care for a family member they may be able to continue to work remotely or on a part time basis.
  • If the whole nation is affected will your business be correspondingly less busy? I can’t imagine many people booking holidays when they’re laid up in bed with flu.
  • Do you have any policies and procedures in place to control ‘skiving’? With doctors turning people with flu symptoms away there is no way to obtain a doctor’s note to support a flu related absence. Some staff my use this to their advantage.
  • Do you have a method of contacting staff with updates or advising them to stay away from their place of work? A dedicated phone line with a recorded message or one of the many web based SMS (text messaging) solutions may be the answer. Are your contact details for staff up to date?

Remote access to critical systems

If you have an outbreak in your business you may be in a quarantine situation. This could be dictated by your company or the government or simply be because staff refuse to come in to the workplace for fear of contracting an illness. In such situations having remote access to systems is vital.

You should consider:

  • Capacity of remote access systems. Many business have remote access to support travelling staff or occasional homeworkers but can the systems scale to support a large volume of prolonged usage?
  • Do you have a telephony system that can be accessed remotely? This can be particularly important for businesses with call centres. Could you use something like Skype in a crisis?
  • Do staff have equipment to work from home? They may have a home phone and PC but it is likely these will need to be shared with other family members. Could you re-allocate company laptops and mobiles from non-critical staff?

Support and maintenance with a reduced IT team

A pandemic situation could potentially be a very busy time for your IT team but they are just a likely to be affected as the rest of the business. They may be scaling up systems at short notice, providing home support and deploying equipment to users.

Some points to think about:

  • Identify your critical applications and skills required to support them.
  • Do core skills sit with more than one member of the team? Could you implement some knowledge transfer and cross training.
  • Are your systems well documented?
  • Do you have standard products – Cisco, RedHat, Exchange etc that you could cover with contract resource if necessary.
  • Could your team work from home during flu season so they are less at risk?
  • If you have have 3rd party support contracts do those companies have their own contingency plans in place?

These thoughts are by no means comprehensive but should give you a starting point when preparing your own plan.

Useful links:

UK Government Swine Flu Information

National Pandemic Flu Service

BusinessLink Swine Flu Advice

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