Is IT ready for a pandemic after mergers, layoffs?

CDC urges 'paying attention' to swine flu that has killed in Mexico, landed in U.S.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is increasingly concerned about a quickly developing swine flu outbreak, with eight cases now in California and Texas, and hundreds more in Mexico.

Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the agency, was blunt with reporters about the health issue in a conference call today, saying "concern has grown."

That is the kind of warning that may prompt IT managers to take a look at influenza pandemic plans developed several years ago in response to the bird flu. But the problem today is that consolidations, layoffs and restructurings may have scrambled response plans drafted in response to pandemic concerns. People who were once part of a critical team may now be collecting unemployment.

Besser's advice was straightforward: "I think it is very important that people are paying attention to what's going on; the situation has been developing quickly. This is something that we are worried about and are treating very seriously."

The CDC isn't calling this a pandemic, and the World Health Organization hasn't raised its threat level, which at Level 3 in its six-level scale because the swine flu currently has "no or very limited human-to-human transmission."

While the CDC figures out just what it is dealing with, Jim Grogan, a vice president at SunGard Availability Services LP, is recommending that managers review their call lists and decision-making chains.

"There could be a weakness in plans because of organizational restructuring that people need to very quickly take a look at," he said.

Grogan also said that if an organization does not have a specific pandemic plan, any plan that considers a "significant absence" of employees may work as an alternative plan.

The standard model used in pandemic planning is to consider what would happen to a business if 40% of the workforce was absent for an extended period of time.

The CDC is in the midst of its initial investigation of the illness, which not may not be anywhere near the threat people had envisioned if the bird flu had become a human influenza pandemic.

In 2006, in response to earlier concerns about the bird flu, Gartner Inc. offered specific suggestion to IT departments, such as storing 42 gallons of water per data center worker, enough for a six-week quarantine.

Asked if Gartner was offering any advice in response to the Mexican outbreak, analyst Ken McGee, the author of that Gartner report, said today that it will go into "full-force advisory mode" not when the virus jumps from birds or swine to people, but when it jumps from people to people.

"But we will use the Mexican situation as a wake-up call for clients to complete infectious virus disease-related influenza plans," McGee said.

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