Corporate Preparations for a Pandemic
By: Mitchell H. Levine, CISA
Audit Serve, Inc.
Corporate disaster recovery preparations start with a business risk assessment to determine the impact of the threat and the likelihood that the threat would occur.
Most companies have not included pandemic as a threat due to the low probability that a disease such as the bird flu virus (H5N1) would mutate so that it became easily transferred from human to human.
We have all been exposed to the sensationalizing of disasters by the news media and the supposed hype of the Y2K date problem, but we need to take a moment to think of the preparations we are willing to make taking in account that if a pandemic did occur corporations could lose their capability to conduct business.
The likelihood of an influenza pandemic varies, but the facts are as follows:
Impact if pandemic occurred: Learning from history, the 1918 avian virus leaped from birds to humans killing 675,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide.
Current state of bird flu virus: (1) Commercial poultry stock have been infected in Europe, Asia and the Middle East (2) 90+ Individuals have died who have been exposed to the infected poultry.
Containment Measures: (1) No vaccine available (2) The US government has stockpiled 5 million doses of anti-viral drugs (i.e., Tamiflu). However, the treatment cycle must start within 48 hours of being exposed to the bird flu virus to be effective.
If a company embarks on the business continuity planning for a pandemic, the first course of action is to calm the fears of their employees since a good portion of the plan relates to how employees can perform the critical business components in a workplace environment which may be considered hazardous to their health. One lesson that was learned from the Katrina disaster is that most employees will think first of their families and stay away from the workplace. The primary vehicle used to counter employees fear to work onsite at a company’s location is the ability for companies to support a telecommuting workforce. As part of the pandemic plan an ongoing assessment needs to be performed to ensure that individuals which are deemed as critical to support the business have remote access to the critical office systems.
One of the problems with establishing workplace access rules during a pandemic is those individuals who are infected with the virus potentially will be contagious before they show any symptoms of the virus. This will cause problems if companies are hoping to provide a virus-free workplace. Therefore, visually inspecting workers before they arrive at work will not prevent the spread of the virus to other workers. Companies should stockpile supplies which will prevent the spread of the virus within the workplace which includes masks, gloves, sanitized bathroom soaps etc. We all saw news footage of the SARS outbreak in 2004 with most of the population wearing masks to work.
Some of the factors which should be incorporated into the assumption of any plan includes (1) Expected warning period prior to the arrival of a pandemic (2) Likelihood that communications will be disrupted which impacts telecommuting capability (3) Length of time in which Pandemic fears will remain
There is an excellent corporate preparation checklist located at http://pandemicflu.gov/plan/businesschecklist.html
which is posted by the U.S. government as part of its pandemic flu & avian flu website which is separate from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention website.
For a free proposal to perform an audit of your organization or provide SOX support & testing services, contact Mitchell Levine of Audit Serve at (203) 972-3567 or via e-mail at Levinemh@auditserve.com.
Copyright 2006, Audit Serve, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction, which includes links from other Web sites, is prohibited except by permission in writing.