Planning for pandemics

How would businesses be affected by a bird flu pandemic or even a more localised outbreak or scare? The consequences go much further than employees getting sick or refusing to leave their homes and coming to work for fear of falling ill.

by Knowledge@Wharton 22 February–7 March 2006
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

There could also be a substantial breakdown in infrastructure that could limit the ability of companies to operate.

There might be disruptions to supply chains, public transport systems, food supplies and IT systems (if, for example, IT people aren’t around to fix any failures).

Simply looking to have staff work from home using technology might also run into problems if there are disruptions to phone lines and electricity supplies. These might not be fixed quickly because employees servicing that infrastructure also stay away from work. 

Similarly there might be a big drop in consumer demand which would hurt many retailers and entertainment and leisure businesses.

Studies predict that a pandemic could also have much more far-reaching consequences: death or illness could substantially reduce workforces; the costs of doing business would be expected to increase; and investors would be likely to re-evaluate country risk.

Clearly huge uncertainties remain about just how much of an issue bird flu will become, but by planning businesses may be able to mitigate some of the damage and make the difference between staying operational or not.

Many businesses, especially large multinationals, are said to have set up avian flu planning committees. Some have taskforces combining strategic planning, operations-continuity procedures, HR and health services to adopt event-specific measures.

Others, particularly in the food industry, are said to be preparing marketing campaigns aimed at countering fears about their products – and so protect their brands – in the event of a pandemic.

Additionally, it is recommended that companies take the opportunity while looking at a range of bird flu scenarios to put in place planning mechanisms to deal with all sorts of risks and potential disaster scenarios. Businesses adopting this more holistic view of risks might analyse what is called the “landscape of threats” – categorising the effect of different scenarios on the following: people; technology and processing; physical environment; and relationships.

Source: Avian Flu: What to expect and how companies can prepare for it
Review by Steve Lodge

Knowledge@Wharton 22 February–7 March 2006 recommends

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