12 months on... Thoughts on a pandemic

As I write this, it is exactly one year since the first reported case of H1N1 (swine flu) arising from last year’s pandemic. It seems natural therefore to take a moment and consider what happened, how we responded, what was learned and perhaps even suggest a way forward.
The Continuity Forum has been actively researching and assessing the potential for major disruption from a pandemic type event for many years; our interest started on reviewing what happened around the SARS outbreak which impacted in the Far East and Canada. 

Viewpoint: are businesses well enough placed to deal with flu pandemic?

Trevor Elswood, BSI group managing director

Although the symptoms of the H1N1 virus (swine flu) are currently similar to a normal bout of winter flu, the World Health Organisation has designated the current alert level for the virus as Phase 6, indicating widespread human infection.  So, what are companies doing to ensure business continuity?


Swine flu outbreak is reason to act, not panic - Gartner

Jun 8, 2009

Governments worldwide are preparing for the anticipated spread of AH1N1 influenza (swine flu), but enterprises should not overact to the outbreak. They should take this event as a wake-up call and review and test their pandemic response plans, according to Gartner, Inc.

Business continuity management (BCM) and disaster recovery (DR) professionals and other stakeholders should use the widespread concern over the swine flu as an opportunity to prevent their enterprises from becoming victims of uncertainty, panic, misinformation and a lack of preparedness to increase enterprise awareness of the potential business impact of a widespread outbreak of disease, said Richard De Lotto, principal research analyst at Gartner.

Enterprises in all regions and across all industries should complete their review of their BCM/DR pandemic response plans and fill in any missing elements by the end of this week, said Roberta Witty, research vice president at Gartner. Starting today IT managers should meet with senior executives, line-of-business managers and other high-level decision-makers to answer any questions should be made aware of the seriousness of this pandemic preparation, to that will ensure a broad, ongoing commitment to this effort. IT managers should plan, test, and add capacity to ensure the sustainability of what is likely to be a predominantly work-at-home environment.

Gartner analysts said a true pandemic could cause absenteeism rates of 40% or higher for enterprises and their business partners and suppliers, resulting in severe operational disruptions. For this reason, enterprises must recognise the urgent need to develop and implement pandemic response planning.

In today's global business environment, IT professionals must recognise include extremely specific elements within their response plans that will overcome their enterprise's operational vulnerabilities which are not confined to the organisation's specific geographic locations, said Ken McGee, vice president and Gartner fellow.

These vulnerabilities also exist in the next town, adjacent states, neighbouring countries, or even on the other side of the planet, where their suppliers, customers, external professional service providers and so on are located.

Enterprise BCM/DR professionals, security professionals, IT managers, line-of-business managers, and other stakeholders are encouraged to monitor government and public-health sources to determine what actions are appropriate to ensure workforce safety and continued
business operations. Gartner analysts said these key stakeholders should review audit pandemic response plans this week to assure they include:

Identify existing and projected critical skills shortages
Initiate necessary cross-training, testing or certification of personnel
Ensure that cross-trained personnel have the appropriate system/applications access rights
Determine which business operations are sustainable, and at what level, and
the likely downtime for normal business operations during periods with absenteeism rates of 40% or higher
Immediately initiate rigorous, ongoing and well-documented testing to isolate and remediate identified problem areas.
Prepare for travel restrictions to be significant in the event of an epidemic and near-universal in the event of a pandemic.
Implement a communications program that ensures that all personnel are aware of the enterprise pandemic response plans, as well as measures they can take to limit the spread of the disease-including practices as simple yet effective as regular hand-washing.

Gartner has created a Special Coverage section on “Planning for a Potential Pandemic" where comprehensive research related to pandemic planning can be found. Gartner analysts will provide regular updates regarding actions enterprises should take as the situation evolves.

Gartner analysts are also providing updates on the Gartner Business Continuity blog at 

Formal Pandemic announced ... but how well are organisations prepared?

Swine Flu (H1N1) status change to Pandemic (Level 6)… amidst general business apathy.

11 June 2009

The World Health Organisation has increased the alert level for A(H1N1) or Swine Flu to a level 6 Pandemic alert.

This Pandemic Alert, the first for 40 years, confirms that the H1N1 virus is now maintaining sustained human to human infection in at least two geographic areas. With outbreaks as far apart as Australia and Europe, the upgrade to alert level 6 Pandemic is no surprise as the formal announcement is linked to a confirmation of wide geographic spread rather than any specific increase in the severity of infections.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organisation speaking yesterday was at pains to stress that confirming Pandemic Status for this novel H1N1 virus “does not mean that the severity of the situation has increased and that people are getting more seriously sick at higher numbers or higher rates than they are right now”

He added, “We also do not know how this virus is going to evolve. It could become more mild over time, or it could become more severe over time, or it could stay pretty much as it is now. These are uncertainties that we have to take into account but we really do not know how that is going to go forward.”

In speaking on the infections to date that are now approaching 30,000 cases with many more suspected of going unreported, Dr Fukada indicated that most were in those below 60, with many infections occurring in those from in their mid 20’s. He stated that at the moment it was unclear whether or not this was due to the travel patterns or if there were other clinical factors involved. Of the 141 deaths seen so far half were in people with underlying health issues and the infection is currently generally assessed as “Mild and Self Limiting”, although it should be said that this could change as the virus develops.

What is clear though is that many people are likely to fall ill over the coming months and that this will have an impact, as they will be unable to work for between 7-10 days.

The Continuity Forum has been compiling data on the planning in place to cope with possible disruption caused by a pandemic over the course of the past month. Over 800 responses have been received from organisations of all types and their content reveals a stark difference in attitude between the public and private sectors.

Against a backdrop of rapidly rising cases (roughly doubling each week) the majority of businesses have still failed to heed government advice to plan for the effects of staff losses and other disruption. Amongst our very largest companies and in the Public Sector planning has generally been untaken, though there are doubts about the depth and likely effectiveness of measures taken and there is little evidence of real commitment to the process across the country.

Taking the top tier of organisations, fewer than half (46%) have implemented Pandemic specific plans with 78% of these being described as incomplete. Organisations with a significant international dimension fare only slightly better with 59% stating they have plans, although 67% are said to be incomplete.

Public Sector Organisations are generally better prepared in terms of planning, but outside of these sectors preparations and planning in organisations rapidly declines. Across the whole of the UK research suggests that fewer than 10% have any kind planning in place to help manage the impact of the Pandemic, which can reasonably be expected to continue to grow over the coming months and particularly in the traditional Flu season later in the year.

Hopefully the WHO announcement will motivate and stimulate many more organisations to start planning now.

Forum Comment

Commenting on the WHO announcement, Russell Price of the Continuity Forum stated “ The World Health Organisation are really just validating what has been evident for the past few weeks with the confirmation of this novel H1N1 virus as Pandemic. The issue isn’t what we are seeing at the moment but rather how it will develop, spread and evolve. Whilst 30,000 may appear to be a large number of cases, over the coming months this will continue to rise especially after the summer when the Northern Hemisphere enters its Flu season”

He added, “Caution and prudence are key in reacting to this threat, we should be careful to be neither complacent and underestimate or ignore the threat, or panic and over estimate it’s potential impact. There is a lot still to learn about the virus and there are issues around how it will develop … will it get more or less severe? We just don’t know at this time, and it must seen as prudent or indeed the responsibility of organisations to carefully consider how they may be affected later in the year. Failing to act now is throwing away the window of opportunity available to act and prepare for what could be said to be an inevitable period of disruption in the Autumn.”

The Continuity Forum is holding a Pandemic Summit on the 26th June that will provide a detailed update on the threat and the planning that can be undertaken by organisations.

In addition, there will be two Pandemic Planning workshops in July to further assist and support organisations develop their planning and response.

For more details on any of these sessions please contact us directly.


Mexican Swine Flu outbreak spreads

UK Health experts are closely monitoring the developing Swine Flu situation in Mexico City. Deaths from the outbreak of the are rising rapidly with so far up 81 reported dead from pneumonia associated with the infection of the flu virus.

No cases have so far been reported in Europe, although 8 have been recorded in Southern California. As a precautionary measure a Male crew member returning from Mexico on a British Airways flight has been hospitalised at Northwick Park after feeling unwell with 'flu' symptoms. He reported as responding well to treatment.

Mexican Swine Flu outbreak creates international concern

Mexican officials and international experts are studying an outbreak of of Swine Influenza that has emerged in Mexico and which is suspected of killing up to 60 in the past month.

International Experts for the World Health Organisation and the US Centre for Disease Control are suggesting the outbreak in Mexico may be connected to a further 8 cases in the USA. It is suspected the virus may also have infect over 900 and the Mexican government has already moved closing public buildings and suspending public events to try and limit the spread of infection.

New plan for London's Pandemic Planning

New plan for London's Pandemic Planning

As organisations planning falters...

The Government Office for London's Resilience Team has just released the updated plan to detailing its plans to address the threat of Pandemic. This update follows enhanced guidance from the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office.

WHO backs investigation into Bird Flu situation in Egypt

Following an increase in infection rates and what appears to be a change in the pattern in Egypt the World Health Organisation is backing more detailed investigation

In Egypt the World Health Organisation is backing further examination and investigation as the numbers contracting the disease rise and and the pattern of infection change. At first sight the changes appear to be good news with all of those infected in the country have survived pointing to a reduction in the virulence of the H5N1, but clinically this change could be bad news.

Special Summit - 26th June 2009 - London

The Continuity Forum announces 2009 Pandemic Planning Summit

CF Logo

The Continuity Forum will be hosting a Special Summit on 26th June 2009 to reexamine the risks and the measures to be adopted to combat the threat. The summit will prominently feature the latest information on Pandemic planning and provide in detail best practice advice and our latest research into the preparedness of organisations.


Guidelines for GP's from RCGP and BMA

The document sets out guidelines for business continuity planning within a General Practioners practice.

The document sets out guidelines for business continuity planning within a General Practioners practice.


New Pandemic guidance for Doctors announced

The guidance says sensible preparation now will make the difference between just ‘getting through’ a pandemic and maximising the number of lives that can be saved. There were three pandemics in the last century which caused public health emergencies and many experts believe another one is overdue.

It is, however, impossible to predict its timing. The BMA/RCGP guidance is intended as a practical guide for GPs and practice managers. It details how GP surgeries will be expected to adapt from their usual method of working and gives information and guidance on the following:


ADVANCE NOTICE - Special Risks Summit - 26th September


The Continuity Forum announces Special Risks summit in association with the Cabinet Office

The Continuity Forum in association with the Cabinet Office will be hosting a Special Risks Summit on 26th September 2008. This special event will discuss the implications of the Pitt review and examine the developing role of BCM in enabling better resilience to flooding. The summit will also prominently feature the latest information on Pandemic and detail both best practice advice and our latest research into the preparedness of organisations.

This prestigious event builds on the recommendations of the Pitt review and leading Health figures we will be sharing information on the vital role of BCM in establishing better Organisational and Community Resilience across the UK. This all day event will be held in London and will be open to both members and non-Members. Places will be at a premium and early registration or expressions of interest are urged.

For more information on the Summit please contact Sara McKenna on 020 8993 1599 or by mail at End

Economic Consequences of a Pandemic .....

Active analysis can be subdivided into three categories of possible threats/occurrences that could befall an organization. Dr. Ian Mitroff refers to the three categories as Natural Accidents, Normal Accidents and Abnormal Accidents. I have renamed them and to differentiate the three aspects of each. That is, the threat, the actual occurrence and the consequence of the occurrence.

Economic Consequences of a Pandemic

At the time of this writing H5N1, known as Avian Flu, is spreading throughout Asia with one of the highest mortality rates of any flu virus of the previous century. Even the Influenza (Spanish Flu) of 1918 did not have as high a morbidity and mortality rate as H5N1 (Avian Flu). We are seeing almost daily some revelation from the World Health Organization (WHO) or Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the popular media.

Business starts Planning for Avian Flu effects

The most obvious commercial victim of bird flu - imagined or real - is the multi-million pound poultry industry, which includes egg producers and broiler breeders, as well as those bringing the poultry to market; ranging from supermarkets to restaurants.

For the moment, this sector's most immediate concern is that talk of a possible pandemic will spook consumers.

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