Industry News | April 30, 2009

Prepare for a Possible Pandemic

Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) today re-issued a series of It’s Not Flu As Usual guides on pandemic flu preparedness, including one for businesses.

“Worry and fear will not protect us--knowing the facts and planning ahead will,” says Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of TFAH. “All of us want to do the right things to protect ourselves and our families in the event of a health emergency. These guides provide information that can help prepare for not just for a potential pandemic flu outbreak but also for many other types of health emergencies.”

The It’s Not Flu As Usual guides provide recommendations in case a major pandemic breaks out. In the event that high levels of illnesses develop and worries about the disease spread, “business as usual” may cease. Public health officials may recommend to closing schools, limiting public gatherings, and staying home from work or school. During a severe pandemic, experts predict that businesses and organizations may face cumulative absentee rates of 10 percent at any given time or 40 percent over three to four months. Absentees could include sick employees, those who are caring for others who are sick, and individuals who may want to avoid the workplace for fear of being exposed to the virus.


  • Check that existing business continuity contingency plans address long-term absenteeism rates. In particular, check to see if core business activities can be sustained over several weeks with only a minimal workforce available.
  • Identify your company’s essential functions, which might include accounting, payroll, and information technology, and the individuals who perform them. The absence of these individuals could seriously impair business continuity. Cross-train employees to perform essential functions to ensure resiliency.
  • Plan for interruptions of essential government services like sanitation, water, power, and transportation, or disruptions to the food supply. For example, employees may need back-up plans for car pools in case mass transit is interrupted.
  • Determine which outside activities are critical to maintain operations and develop alternatives in case they cannot function normally. For example, what transportation systems are needed to provide essential materials? Does the business operate on ‘just in time’ inventory or is there typically some in reserve?
  • Update sick leave and family and medical leave policies and communicate with employees about the importance of staying away from the workplace if they become ill.
  • Establish or expand policies and tools that enable employees to work from home with appropriate security and network access to applications.
  • Collaborate with insurers, health plans, and major healthcare facilities to share your pandemic contingency plans and to learn about their capabilities and plans.
  • Maintain a healthy work environment. Ensure adequate air circulation. Post tips on how to stop the spread of germs at work. Promote hand and respiratory hygiene. Ensure wide and easy availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer products.
  • Tell your employees about the threat of pandemic flu and the steps the company is taking to prepare for it. Establish an emergency communications plan and revise periodically. The plan should include key contacts (with back-ups), a chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and the processes for communicating pandemic status and actions to employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers inside and outside the worksite in a consistent and timely way.

The It’s Not Flu As Usual guides were funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a supporter of the Pandemic Preparedness Initiative, and they are available on TFAH’s Web site:

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