Friday, November 03, 2006

DHS Pandemic Flu Guide for Critical Infrastructure Businesses

DHS has released a new guide for private sector businesses regarding planning for pandemic flu. For someone well versed in the threat, there is not much new information in the document. It primarily focuses on the potential severity of the threat, in the interest of motivating those who have not adequately planned for a pandemic. Here are some selected highlights:

The primary purpose of this Guide is to stimulate the U.S. private sector business community to act now.

The mounting risk of a worldwide influenza pandemic poses numerous potentially devastating consequences for critical infrastructure in the United States. A pandemic will likely reduce dramatically the number of available workers in all sectors, and significantly disrupt the movement of people and goods, which will threaten essential services and operations within and across our nation’s CI/KR sectors.

In each pandemic [during the 20th century - including the devastating Spanish Flu of 1918], about 30 percent of the U.S. population developed illness, with about half of those Americans seeking medical care. Children under the age of 18 have tended to have the highest rates of illness, though not of severe disease and death. Geographical spread in each pandemic was rapid and virtually all communities experienced outbreaks.

Implications of pandemic flu:
  • Dramatic worker absenteeism (40 percent or more) will occur at all levels due to illness, family member care, death, childcare, and “worried well” (otherwise healthy people who avoid the workplace for fear of exposure).
  • Pandemic disease spread will be rapid and unpredictable, likely precluding shifting personnel, resources, and emergency operations centers to “safe” areas.
  • Movement restrictions and/or quarantines will disrupt the supply chains and municipal services.
  • Social distancing requirements will affect business operations, especially when public contact is unavoidable (e.g., retail food) or workers share a common workspace (e.g., plants).
  • Business closures and furloughs for prolonged periods may cause extensive financial harm or even ruin, increasing demand for social and welfare support.
  • Lost income and competition for remaining skilled workers and scarce supplies and materials will dramatically affect business response and recovery.
  • Reduced worker availability among first responders may result in greater risk of social and security disruptions.
  • Disruptions and failures at essential businesses will cause localized economic and social challenges and may affect other businesses in the sector, region, and, perhaps, the nation.
Unlike geographically and temporally bounded disasters, a pandemic will spread across the globe over the course of months or over a year, possibly in waves, and will affect communities of all sizes and compositions. In terms of its scope, the impact of a severe pandemic may be more comparable to that of war or a widespread economic crisis than a hurricane, earthquake, or act of terrorism.

A pandemic “wave” may linger in a community for six to eight weeks.

An estimated 50 percent of those who get the flu may require medical intervention, and the burgeoning throng of patients and “worried well” may overwhelm our healthcare delivery system.

Shortages of and disruptions to basic commodities and municipal infrastructure may cause localized security challenges for businesses and communities.

To survive a pandemic, all businesses must plan to collaborate with members all along their supply chain network, key customers, and business competitors.

DHS plans to use the National Infrastructure Coordinating Center (NICC) [one of the four sub-elements of the National Operating Center (NOC)] as the hub for all CI/KR private sector information sharing needs during all phases of a pandemic.
The guide includes a checklist for private-sector entities to develop continuity-of-operations plans pandemic flu. (See Section 5 of the guide.) The checklist is thorough, though somewhat general in that it must apply to all types and sizes of businesses.

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