May 02, 2006
Most American Corporations Expect Flu Pandemic

American companies expect a more lethal influenza strain to break out into the human population. But they aren't doing enough to prepare.

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."

Some parts of SAIC are ready to shift toward telecommuting.

On a Saturday two months ago, SAIC tested its telecommuting capability with a unit that operates in Northern Virginia, Hawaii and several foreign countries to see whether everyone could work outside the office with all necessary functions, programs and communications. Several software problems arose.

Preparations for a massive shift to telecommuting would help a great deal. But for facilities which require people on-site (e.g. power plants, factories, warehouses, rail yards) I promote an approach I call workplace cocooning. Have a group of workers quarantine themselves into a factory or warehouse or computer facility with futons to sleep on, refrigerators, microwaves, and other gadgets to make the place suitable for staying in for weeks and months without leaving and without direct contact with humans outside the facility. Methods could be developed for bringing parts in and shipping finished products out without humans from the outside coming into direct contact with those inside.

Since tourism will collapse lots of hotels will sit empty. Well, hotels make good candidates to be turned into quarantined live-in office buildings. White collar teams that need to work together in person could move into hotels with their computers and other needed equipment. Then they'd isolate themselves from the outside except to receive packages delivered and left at the door for their later retrieval.

Many types of businesses could rapidly restructure to eliminate long chains of exposure via which viruses can spread. Telecommuting and workplace cocooning could allow the economy to function while greatly reducing the ability of a pandemic influenza virus to spread into company workforces.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 May 02 10:24 PM  Pandemic Prepare Business

James Bowery said at May 2, 2006 11:08 PM:

That's pretty funny... the main programmer for SAIC's toll road system was my housemate in La Jolla and he had things set up so he worked from home 95% of the time -- back in 1992.

Joe said at May 3, 2006 8:02 AM:

Companies should just work with their employees to see what they need to work from home. That would help many problems at the same time. Lower gas use, decrease traffic, keep people away from bugs, save everyone driving time, lower traffic accidents, decrease needed police force, incourage the government to invest in network infastructure, ect. I currently work from home 2 days a week and love it.

Brett Bellmore said at May 3, 2006 9:59 AM:

I wouldn't dismiss the effectiveness of such simple, cheap measures as breath masks and rubber gloves, at interfering with the transmission of influenza. And stockpiling even a couple weeks worth of supplies at home would allow us to stop the spread of an epidemic in it's tracks.

Robert Silvetz said at May 3, 2006 2:33 PM:

Please -- enough of this worrying. Vical has a universal flu vaccine in the works and the Russians are coming out with a strain-specific inoculation. Let's get back to worrying about what really will happen -- a nuke in a cargo container exploding randomly somewhere in CONUS.

Snippet follows:

Vical bird flu vaccine stops H5N1, maybe others

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
Reuters -- Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 8:45 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bird flu vaccine being developed by San Diego-based Vical Incorporated (VICL.O) protects mice and ferrets against the feared H5N1 avian influenza virus, the company said on Tuesday.

It may also offer potential as a "universal" flu vaccine because it targets parts of the virus that all flu strains have, Vical and researchers testing the shot said.

Researchers and regulators are reshaping the landscape of science, medicine and health, engendering hope -- and disquiet -- for the future of humanity.

This so-called cross-protection would mean that new vaccines would not have to be formulated every flu season and could provide a chance to stockpile vaccine ahead of a pandemic.

Wolf-Dog said at May 3, 2006 2:39 PM:

The interesting thing is that even though the government is acknowledging that the currently available number of vaccine dosages is very limited, it is not clear how they will decide who will get the vaccine in the case of an epidemic. Certainly the political leaders would be given the vaccine, and maybe some important people, Nobel laureates, etc. But I am sure there will be a major panic and even fights to get the vaccine.

Robert Silvetz said at May 5, 2006 10:08 AM:

Turns out that the production problems with Tamiflu have just been cracked.

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