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plan ahead for telecommunications needs
Posted: June 21 2006 at 9:54pm
"Since a pandemic might prompt many workers to telecommute, companies might need to stagger shifts to balance loads on the phone system and the Internet, suggested Robert Clark, manager of business continuity and emergency management for Verizon Business. Companies should think ahead about their telecommunications needs during a public health emergency, he suggested, because Verizon likely would defer new installations during a pandemic so it could maintain existing installations"....
Companies preparing for bird flu
Thursday, June 22, 2006By Christopher Snowbeck, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If pandemic flu strikes, Giant Eagle hopes to minimize person-to-person contact in its stores by encouraging the use of self-service checkout lines, drive-up pharmacy windows and debit or credit cards rather than cash.
Mellon Financial wants to keep handling money, of course, so the company will try to maintain its work force by asking workers who apparently are sick to stay home rather than put others at risk. At Verizon Communications, once a sick employee is no longer on the job, the company will thoroughly clean the worker's computer keyboard, telephone and desk.
Those were among the ideas presented at yesterday's forum on the avian flu and pandemic preparedness. Sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and held at the Pittsburgh Hilton, the gathering of about 200 focused on steps businesses are taking to prepare for a public health emergency.
Pandemic flu isn't here, of course, and it's not certain when it will strike. But public health officials have been sounding alarms because an avian flu is currently decimating bird populations around the globe. "This is a matter of measured urgency," said Dr. Loren Roth, UPMC's chief medical officer.
Because the virus, currently circulating among birds, doesn't commonly infect humans, people have little or no immune protection against it, sparking fears that an influenza pandemic could begin if more people are infected and it begins spreading from person to person.
As of May 2006, the viral strain currently circulating has infected more than 200 people -- primarily in Asian countries -- and slightly more than one half have died. But scientists believe that human-to-human transmission likely has occurred in just a small number of cases, with most cases involving transmission from birds to humans.
A "medium-level" pandemic could cause between 89,000 to 207,000 deaths in the United States alone, the government estimates, and speakers yesterday talked of companies having to deal with absentee rates of 30 to 40 percent.
When Mellon began its preparations in October, it quickly realized bird flu was simply another scenario to which the company can apply existing business continuity plans, said Susan M. Vismor, senior vice president for corporate crisis management. Pandemic flu could require more employees to work from home, so the company is determining how many have the computer hardware and secure ID cards to do so, she said.
The company also is taking steps to develop an "ethic of infection control" in the workplace that includes encouraging workers to stay home when sick, Ms. Vismor said. While there is no vaccine to protect humans against the viral strain currently circulating among birds, Mellon has this fall plans to provide employees with free shots of vaccine that protects against the routine flu.
Because of the pandemic threat, Giant Eagle officials are considering the feasibility of creating an online grocery store that would ship purchased goods to homes via mail or a commercial shipping service, said John Saunders, director of computer services and IT procurement.
Because a typical Giant Eagle store stocks about 40,000 different items, Mr. Saunders said the company also is trying to determine which "core items" it would need to stockpile during a pandemic. As is true with many businesses, it tries to keep just enough goods in the warehouse to keep shelves stocked without building up inventories, but it could need more capacity during a pandemic, he said.Since a pandemic might prompt many workers to telecommute, companies might need to stagger shifts to balance loads on the phone system and the Internet, suggested Robert Clark, manager of business continuity and emergency management for Verizon Business. Companies should think ahead about their telecommunications needs during a public health emergency, he suggested, because Verizon likely would defer new installations during a pandemic so it could maintain existing installations.
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