Are You Ready for the Pandemic?

In the light of the avian flu, SARS, increasing natural disasters which may be linked to global warming, and threat of terrorist attack, it is important for every business and individual to have a plan and be prepared. There’s a reason why two past presidents — Clinton and Bush — have made a public announcement which airs regularly on TV stations urging every American citizen and business to be prepared for disaster.

There was such extreme outrage on a national level when it took FEMA so long to respond to the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. No one seemed to notice beforehand the warning on the FEMA site (now less conspicuously displayed), which states “Following a disaster, community members may be on their own for a period of time because of the size of the area affected, lost communications, and impassable roads.” And of course the larger the disaster, the longer it takes to mobilize an appropriate response of resources and people.

There is no doubt that there are difficult times ahead. The avian flu alone is enough to cause one to lose sleep. Where do you turn for information, guidance, and assistance?

We’re fortunate in the U.S. because there is a wealth of very valuable information available from our government and designated agencies. Some is readily available on the internet, other information may be attained online and delivered to your door. Let’s walk through some of those resources.

The most overwhelming threat, from my perspective, is the avian flu. Why? Well, aside from the fact that it is clearly spreading globally and heading toward our continent slowly but surely, it is very often fatal. And the fact that it spreads so rapidly and without recourse means possible mass quarantines. How will your firm survive if your city or town is locked down by quarantine? Will you plan now for this eventuality so that work can be accomplished on a “virtual office” basis? And we’re not talking just you, but likely your staff, too.

Or will you just wait and try to figure it out later? And hope for the best? The fact that this is not yet on the “radar screen” of most law firms reminds me of the lines at the supermarket when a big storm is about to hit. People buying all the batteries, water, and toilet paper they can carry. Fighting over bags of salt and shovels. Ugly. Unnecessary. (And what do people do with all that toilet paper anyway? :-))

In point of fact, you have a professional responsibility to take reasonable measures to preserve your ability to service clients. And that means at least a modicum of forethought and planning on your part.

Ok, you may think I’m exaggerating the risks. Don’t take my word for it. First, go to the web site of International SOS, the world’s leading provider of medical assistance, international healthcare, security services and outsourced customer care. This is the company that global businesses rely on to rescue their workers anywhere in the world when natural disasters, medical emergencies, or civil unrest or war put them at risk. Take a look at the information on their site regarding avian flu. Hit the “play” button on the map to see how it is spreading and how fast, and you will be ready to start planning. Or at least worrying that you haven’t been planning.

Another excellent resource to understand the threat of the avian flu is the web site of the U.S. Government, appropriately titled PandemicFlu.gov. In the Business & Industry portion of the site, we are advised

In the event of pandemic influenza, businesses will play a key role in protecting employees’ health and safety as well as limiting the negative impact to the economy and society. Planning for pandemic influenza is critical. Companies that provide critical infrastructure services, such as power and telecommunications, also have a special responsibility to plan for continued operation in a crisis and should plan accordingly. As with any catastrophe, having a contingency plan is essential.

There is a wealth of information on the site to guide you in what you should do to prevent the spread of flu in your firm.

Of course, flu is just one risk. Natural disasters pose yet additional risks. FEMA has a wealth of information on their web site. In particular they have a guide in downloadable PDF entitled Are You Ready? This guide was designed to help people learn how to protect themselves and their families against all types of hazards. It can be used as a reference source or as a step-by-step manual on how to develop, practice, and maintain emergency plans that reflect what must be done before, during, and after a disaster. Also included is information on how to assemble a disaster supplies kit with sufficient quantity for individuals and their families to survive following a disaster in the event they must rely on their own resources.

Here’s a thought: how about you download and print a copy for each and every employee at your firm? It’s a start. And while you’re at it, why don’t you download and print the PDF Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industryand give it a glance.

Ok, if you’re one of those untrusting anti-U.S. Government fanatics, maybe you’ll want to avail yourself of similar information just recently published by the Canadian government on their Is Your Family Prepared?web site.

Lastly, we have terrorism to think about. And the place to start is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready web site. They have preparedness kits and checklists waiting for you as an individual, and you as a business.

They even have a special link for those with pets. I will be clicking on that after I’m done with this post. Why? It broke my heart after hurricane Katrina and Rita to hear of all the displaced pets separated from their owners. Imagine going through a disaster of that magnitude, and on top of that wondering if your beloved pet is alive. Or even worse, knowingly having to abandon your pet(s) because you’ve made no contingency plans. My heart aches just thinking about it.

The American Red Cross has a fairly robust section of their web site devoted to preparing to survive a terrorist event. They also explain the possibility of local officials to advise citizens to “shelter in place,” which means that you should remain inside your home or office and protect yourself there. They offer a PDF Shelter in Place Fact Sheet which you can download and print.

Last but not least, I think that every bar association should purchase one copy of the Disaster Recovery Yellow Pages, so that members of the bar can utilize it should the need arise. It comes in either hard copy or CD. With thousands of vendor listings and over 400 categories, the Edwards Disaster Recovery Directory is the most comprehensive resource for disaster recovery and business continuity information. Purchase of either the hard copy or CD provides access to the online directory, which is updated daily with new vendors and corrections.

Now I’ve done it, haven’t I? I’ve left you absolutely no excuse to NOT address these issues. I’ve given you links to so many quality resources, with access to ready-made guides and checklists. I’ve made it pretty much idiot-proof, haven’t I?

You don’t have to check it all out right this minute. But don’t let it become out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Because I promise you, if that happens, a day will come when you will regret not having followed up on this information. Come on, I’ll sleep easier at night knowing you’re taking steps to protect yourself, your employees, your family, your firm and its clients. Do it for me, if not for yourself. I need the sleep! 🙂

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