Rick DeLotto and Roberta Witty here with some thoughts on the Influenza Uproar… please note that, as of this writing, no epidemic or pandemic has been declared.
First, don’t panic— if you are a US bank you should already have a written and tested pandemic plan in place. We suggest you review it, check your local regulator for additional guidance and brief your organizational counterparts as to what will happen if the plan is activated.
Second—don’t panic. The news media is doing that for you, perhaps as a relief from covering the …umm what was it again? O yeah, The Great Economic Downturn and Banking Crisis.
Third, after not panicking, check your staffing schedules to make sure you can cover higher absenteeism. The recent outbreaks of the Swine flu are highlighting the need for organizations to have pandemic plans that address workforce absenteeism rates of 40% or higher. There are 20 laboratory-confirmed human cases in California, Texas, Ohio, Kansas and New York. In fact, our colleagues with Roberta in Chicago for the Gartner Business Continuity Management Summit have already been notified that at least one company planning to attend cannot because they have already initiated their crisis management plan to monitor the swine flu outbreak in their area. With luck, this will be a very minor event as according to the WHO “laboratory testing has found the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus susceptible to the prescription antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir.”
Immediate steps for organizations to take include:
• Go to www.pandemicflu.gov to find out the actions the US government recommends to ensure workforce safety and continuous business operations. Make sure senior management sees it: our experience shows there were a lot of high level scoffers at the possibility this would occur. Watch your main regulator’s site for additional guidance as the situation evolves.
• Download and examine the FFIEC’s “Pandemic Flu Exercise of 2007 After Action Report” immediately, and disseminate their findings across your organization. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only large-scale testing of business pandemic plans ever conducted.
• Download Rick DeLotto’s research note “New U.S. Guidance on IT in Pandemics” dated March 3, 2008.
• It is, as they say, never too early for proper hygiene, and a “wash your hands” campaign is a great way to start a “yes we are REALLY serious” about this awareness build-up. Hand sanitizers do no good at all sitting on the shelf. Emphasize the urgency of performing personal hygiene disciplines that will inhibit the spread of the virus.
• Identify existing and projected critical skills shortages; and initiate staff cross-training, testing and certification. Make sure that cross-trained personnel are also given the appropriate access rights in your applications. This is the longest lead-time and most disruptive of the improvements.
• Determine which business operations are sustainable, at what level, and likely durations of downtime for normal business operations with staff absentee rates of 40%. Test for various combinations of leaders and skilled staff.
• Testing should start immediately to isolate and remediate problem areas. Testing should be rigorous, inventive, ongoing and documented.
Gartner has many research notes related to pandemic planning and we will continue to update you as to the severity of events and actions you should take as the situation evolves. Please go to www.gartner.com for more information.