For the moment, forget about the personal "sickness and death" aspect of an avian flu pandemic, should such ever occur.
Do you run a business? Logistically, what would you do if 25% of your employees didn't come to work during an extended period? Some are sick, some are caring for sick family members, some are scared to get out, some may have died. (By the way, that 25% is not a randomly-chosen or inflated figure. The official U.S. Pandemic Influenza Plan uses the assumption that even a moderate pandemic flu would infect 30% of the overall population, with the highest rate - about 40% - among school-aged children. Half of the sick would seek medical care.)
What if that 25% absentee rate was happening up and down your supply and distribution chain - with many of your suppliers or customers also severely short-handed? What if some suppliers couldn't deliver to you? What about customers who need products you can't deliver? What about customers canceling orders as they try to protect cash flow because their sales are suffering or they're diverting monies to counter the effects of bird flu?
What are the different scenarios? What if the absenteeism was concentrated in certain of your locations? Or in certain departments of one location?
If you have a retail business, what would you do if half of your customers just quit coming in for a while? If you operate a facility where crowds come to be entertained - a theater, stadium, arena - what would you do if the government said such public gatherings were banned until further notice? Or that conventions and trade shows could not be held?
Do you suppose federal and local government officials are thinking about this - about which types of activity would need to be curtailed during a flu pandemic? If they aren't, they should be.
You should be thinking about it, too.
Are the other companies in your supply chain thinking about it? Ask them.
Your business continuity plan or similar contingency plan should include the prospects of a flu pandemic or other widespread infectious disease emergency. These plans usually cover fires, chemical spills, natural disasters, product recalls, labor strikes and so forth. But not infectious disease. It's time to update your plan.
(For a broader discussion of the possible business and economic impacts of an influenza pandemic, see an economist's view of pandemic flu [890k .pdf] from Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist of BMO Nesbitt Burns, a Canadian-based investment and corporate banking firm. I plan to share some of Dr. Cooper's observations in future posts.)
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