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|