It seems like the stuff you see in movies, but the Avian influenza, commonly known as the "bird flu," is a very real threat and has the potential to change the way we live and work. If the virus mutates into a new strain that spreads easily among people, a pandemic may materialize, affecting a large number of people within weeks. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other leading health organizations recommend that everyone be prepared for an influenza pandemic to strike at any time. As a government agency, you need to set an example by being proactive with your planning. Now is the time to insure that your organization can continue to execute its mission regardless of the external environment. This means that you need to make sure your employees have the ability to work remotely, because a pandemic will not only lead to mass telecommuting, it will also make the public more dependent upon government agencies than ever. You also need to find a reliable backup solution for all data, including email, to help ensure that your vital information remains available,
Some scientific models predict that a virus could spread globally within 21 days after it is announced. During the first wave of the pandemic, outbreaks may occur simultaneously in many locations throughout the nation, preventing a targeted concentration of national emergency resources in one or two places—and requiring each locality to depend in large measure on its own resources to respond. During this time, the government will be expected to be available and operating. How effectively your agency is able to respond will depend on the steps you take now.
In his November 2005 "National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza
," President Bush outlined some of the responsibilities of the Federal government, one of them is to ensure "that federal departments and agencies have developed and exercised preparedness and response plans that take into account the potential impact of a pandemic on the federal workforce, and are configured to support state, local and private sector efforts as appropriate."
Jennifer Nuzzo, an analyst with the Center for Biosecurity, has said that organizations should be thinking about who could potentially work from home, how much technology would be required to keep operations running, who would need to be in the office, and how antiviral medicines and vaccine could be distributed to protect them.
Medical authorities such as the Red Cross will be urging 'treat in place'. This means that your employees will be unable to go into the office in the event of a flu outbreak. In preparing for the worst, you need to insure that key employees can perform their duties remotely. Conducting an actual dry run in which all employees try to perform their work using the programs and communications they can access from home all at the same time, can help identify potential problem areas or weaknesses in the mass telecommuting scenario sooner rather than later.
The demands on data centers are growing dramatically, and data centers are becoming so complex that they are virtually unmanageable. Standardizing your IT environment on a consistent software infrastructure across heterogeneous application, database, server, and storage platforms will give your IT staff the control they need to continue to perform their duties from any location.
There are a few IT solutions that can drive costs down while increasing your agency's ability to respond to a crisis. If you are maintaining critical public records, you can’t run the risk that files will be lost or accidentally deleted in a chaotic situation. A disk-based backup solution will help keep your agency’s data protected and available regardless of geographical location. The solution should make it easy for IT and users to perform tasks from any location, likely through a Web-based interface. Investing in a backup environment for email traffic is also important. Backing up email locally, as well as on the agency’s archival server, will keep emails safe.
According to Richard Nesbit, WHO's acting regional director for the Western Pacific, the public should not lower its guard even though the warnings about a global pandemic has become somewhat old.
"Scientists are telling us that the risk is just as present as ever... After three years now, I'm sure that many journalists and the public are starting to get tired of the same message that there's a potential global pandemic around the corner, but we have a responsibility to continue to give this message," Nesbit said prior to a weeklong WHO meeting in New Zealand, attended by 37 countries and territories in September 2006.
Now is the time to take the pandemic threat seriously and implement solutions and strategies that will help keep systems running, regardless of where employees are working. It’s also important to consider your accessibility to the citizens who will need you the most. While no one wants to think about planning for any kind of crisis situation, taking proactive steps now will lead to less chaos should we be faced with a very real influenza outbreak.