The Washington Post writes today about contingency plans among businesses for the pandemic flu:
More than half of U.S. companies think there will be a global flu epidemic in the next two years. Two-thirds think it will seriously disrupt their operations as well as foment social unrest. But two-thirds also say they aren’t prepared. One-third of executives surveyed say nobody in their organization has been appointed to plan for a pandemic; another one-quarter couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the question.
“Corporations are looking at this like deer at headlights,” said Tommy G. Thompson, who spent much of his last two years as secretary of health and human services sounding the pandemic alarm and is now doing the same as a private consultant. “They are very skittish. They don’t know which way to go. They are hoping the car is not going to hit them.”
Pandemic influenza is the latest imponderable facing U.S. business, a form of unwanted globalization that threatens the life and health of even the smallest companies in the most literal way.
Several surveys show that a small but growing number of corporations is convinced — as many epidemiologists have been for a while — that a global flu outbreak is inevitable. The uncertainty about whether it will be the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has spread from Asia into Europe, or some other strain is not stopping them from getting ready.
But how ready they are — and the readiness of the business world as a whole — is difficult to assess. The government does not require companies to have pandemic response plans, customers don’t demand them, and many boards of directors doubt they are necessary.
It’s critical for private sector leaders to move forward to develop plans for how they would operate in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak. I think that the federal government is doing its part, creating a planning checklist for businesses and reaching out to spur the private sector to action. If companies don’t prepare and there’s a debilitating outbreak, they won’t be able to say that they weren’t warned.