The fact that swine flue has officially been designated a pandemic confirms that there is no time for complacency in contingency planning.
Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised its pandemic flu alert to the top phase of its six-phase scale, indicating that the H1N1 virus has achieved sustained community transmission in a broad geography, according to AON Global Risk Consulting the declaration does not indicate a change in the severity of the current outbreak.
However, it has warned that influenza viruses are notoriously unpredictable and the so-called "swine flu" virus may mutate to become more severe at any time. Pandemics typically manifest in three or more waves of disease which may differ in severity and can occur at any time during the year.
"The WHO declaration is a signal that businesses worldwide must continue and indeed escalate vigilance in their pandemic planning efforts," said Aon Global Risk Consulting principal David Herbert. "This is not a time to be complacent, but rather an opportunity to anticipate possible scenarios and create contingency plans accordingly."
AON has identified six critical steps to protect employees, customers, supply chain partners, additional stakeholders and business assets:
- Ensure the supply chain is uninterrupted by determining availability of backup suppliers;
- Build a pandemic crisis communication plan, including a process for cascading critical messages to employees;
- Develop a protocol to facilitate home working arrangements for employees;
- Inform employees of any travel protocols/restrictions in place;
- Look at succession planning for all levels of the organisation and ensure that - at a minimum - key functions have been addressed; and
- Construct a plan of action addressing the incubation period (three to four days prior to onset of symptoms) in the event an employee is suspected of having the H1N1 flu virus at work, a family member is at risk or an employee has been exposed to the virus.
- Mark Phillips