Disaster Planning for Pandemic Flu

Editor’s Note: In searching for information on DR planning for a pandemic, I came across this article from December 2005. It was first published on BankersOnline.com in response to the bird flu scare H5N1 that was making headlines at the time. Since it appears a pandemic may indeed be upon us, in the interest of time BOL was kind enough to let me re-purpose it on CIOUpdate.com. The article is just as relevant―if not more so―today and provides links to some great resources if you haven’t already included a pandemic in your disaster planning scenarios.

You’ve prepared for the worst. You’re ready for robberies, hostage situations, extended power failures, long term communication loss, fire, floods, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and even nuclear strikes. But are you ready for the flu? Maybe it’s time. We have some information and resources you’ll want to be familiar with.

Not just any flu, pandemic flu. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the flu kills 35,000 to 40,000 Americans every year. Another 200,000 are hospitalized. A pandemic flu is much more serious than normal flu outbreaks and occurs only a few times each century. The CDC estimates that a “medium-level” pandemic flu may cause up to 207,000 deaths in the United States. Another 725,000 hospitalizations and 20-47 million people being sick, with an economic impact in the range of $71 – $166 billion. A pandemic flu could easily leave 25-30% of the workforce ill for an extended period. And the experts agree; we are overdue for our next pandemic.

In the 20th Century, there were three pandemics: The Spanish flu of 1918-1919 was the worst of the pandemics causing over 500,000 deaths in the US and up to 50 million worldwide. Over half of those who died were young, healthy adults. The Asian flu of 1957-58 caused about 70,000 deaths in the US. And the Hong Kong flu from 1968-69 caused nearly 34,000 American deaths.

Unlike most disaster scenarios, with pandemic flu, your main concern is not the loss of equipment or operations facilities, but instead the people necessary to make it all work. So, how do you prepare for a pandemic that could leave you without 30% of your workforce for weeks or months?

  • Review your Business Continuity Plan, determine the impact that long term illnesses will have on operations and update the plan accordingly.
  • Appoint a pandemic coordinator and/or team with defined roles and responsibilities.
  • Identify critical functions and essential employees required to continue normal operations by location.
  • Cross train employees from multiple locations with minimal face-to-face contact to be able to fill these essential roles.
  • Determine what functions could be conducted remotely and provide for secure access in the event of a pandemic.
  • Review personnel policies for sick leave compensation and guidelines for when employees are allowed to return to work after a pandemic illness. This may be one time it pays to pay employees for extended illness.
  • Have posters and other material available to educate your employees on proper hygiene in the event of virus outbreaks.
  • Collaborate with authorities to participate in the planning process and to be more aware of potential threats.

The above list is just a small sample of what needs to be done in the event of a pandemic flu. A complete business oriented checklist from the CDC may be found at: CDC Business Continuity Checklist for Pandemics.

More information on pandemic flu may be found at:


CDC Pandemic Influenza: Worldwide Preparedness

WHO: Ten things you need to know about pandemic influenza

An excellent source for information on Business Continuity Planning is available from BOL Guru Dana Turner at: Disaster Recovery & Business Resumption Planning.

And the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Contingency Planning Guide for Information Technology Systems may be found here: NIST Contingency Planning Guide for Information Technology Systems.

For the sake of conciseness, this article was edited. To see the complete article, please click here.

At the time of this article’s original printing, Jeff Patterson, a 25 year IT industry veteran, worked in the technology department of a large Oklahoma-based financial institution where he oversaw support and vendor management for many of the institution’s key applications. He has taught application programming, database design and development and database administration classes. His expertise includes enterprise application development, network infrastructure, information systems risk analysis, project management, and database design and administration.