There is a far greater threat facing the world than Y2K. And like Y2K, there is not a lot executives, managers and leaders of corporations, small business and other organizations can do to prevent the possible disaster.
But there is a great deal you can do to prepare, just in case, and without spending the kind of money that was spent on Y2K.
We are urging organizations around the world to start drafting plans for the potential disruption of a deadly flu pandemic. The World Health Organization says the world is “overdue” for an influenza pandemic, since mass epidemics have occurred every 20 to 30 years and it’s been nearly 40 years since the last one.
The worst outbreak of influenza was in 1918 and it claimed 50-million lives around the globe and 500-thousand in the US, alone. The most recent pandemic struck the US and the rest of world in 1968.
The US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, says the current situation is “worrisome” but not imminent, even though the Chinese government has confirmed a new H7N9 strain in recent days has killed 9 people and triggered the culling of poultry in the part of the country where the human cases have been confirmed.
The normal functions of society were disrupted in the 1918 outbreak with workers too ill to work, others staying home out of fear, hospitals strained to meet the demand for care and basic essentials such as transportation, water, sanitation and power were threatened.
Forward thinking companies should already have a plan for the possibility.
Planning should proceed on two fronts:
1. How are you going to maintain a minimal level of service/productivity?
2. How are you going to communicate quickly and effectively with key audiences?
Human Resources, Purchasing, Transportation, Marketing and Sales all need a plan to keep the business functioning. Plan for how you are going to keep operating with more than the normal number of people out sick and knowing that some will never be back.
What’s the minimum workforce with which you can continue to operate? When you have as much as half your workforce out sick, or afraid to come to work, what can you do to meet production or service demands? When a number of those sick employees never return to work, where will you find qualified replacements? How long will it take to train them?
When your vendors are facing the same sickness and absenteeism, and your delivery services are slowed by sickness, how will you maintain operations?
You need to anticipate:
· What will you do
· What will you say
· How will you decide if you have to close a plant, store, distribution center or office.
The communication challenge is just as significant.
You need a plan in place to communicate with employees, to reassure them, if you can:
· Their jobs will be safe
· This will end and life will return to normal (whatever that is)
· The company will stand by them and their families if the worst happens
You will need to regularly update employees, vendors, partners, franchisees, customers and shareholders/investors about the progress you are making in overcoming the challenges of the pandemic.
Be prepared to continuously reassure employees and customers that you will be able to meet their needs and expectations. But, be honest. You may be slowed by the illness or work may be temporarily halted.
Part of the planning process will include determining the most effective and efficient method of communicating with those key audiences and anticipating which forms of communication will be more likely to work with so many people sick and dying.
For those companies that do business in Southeast Asia, China and Mexico, planning is even more important because conditions in many of those countries and health care shortcomings will exacerbate the impact of a flu pandemic.