Dusting off the cobwebs

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged so I figure it is time to sweep away the cobwebs and try to get back to it.  Although the H1N1 pandemic news has been interesting to watch, it’s not been inspiring enough to warrant comment, and we have not had much in the way of a local impact, so my attention has been focused on other endeavors.

Thus far H1N1 2009 has proved to be more of an intellectual curiosity as opposed to a public health emergency.  We have been lucky, at least in the “thus far”.  Will our luck hold?  Only time will provide that answer.

An article out of New Zealand caught my attention today:

The New Zealand Herald [Excerpted]

Gill South: Be prepared, or face the consequences when the pandemic peaks
4:00AM Sunday Jun 28, 2009

For many New Zealand businesses, the swine flu virus has arrived at the worst possible time; when they are already leaning heavily on a depleted staff, with many personnel doing more than one job, the idea of losing even more employees for a period is enough to send many management teams into despair.

The Ministry of Health says businesses can expect absenteeism to be as high as 50 per cent for a two-week period during the peak of the pandemic, and businesses need to be aware the overall pandemic could last around eight weeks.


Mike Wood, chair of the Society for Risk Management, says the last big challenge for New Zealand businesses was the 1998 Auckland CBD power outage.

He recommends every company have a crisis management team, including people who head all the major functions involved, such as HR, communications, operations and finance.

The team will need a number of plans – a plan for staff being down by 10 or 20 per cent and a different plan for the “oh shit” situation, says Wood.

Treat your staff humanely, he adds. If you want good relationships with staff, think about exceptions which could be made about sick leave.

Some companies are woefully under-prepared, says business continuity specialist Janet Osborne, senior consultant at Standby Consulting, a Dunedin-based business continuity firm. “It would be reassuring to think that the majority of medium to large businesses in New Zealand put the same level of input into having an up-to-date and fully tested business continuity plan as they do for their insurances and other aspects of their businesses, but sadly this is not always the case,” she says.

A pandemic does not have to have a high fatality rate to adversely effect business and, in turn, our lives as a result of those effects.  Many businesses are already operating on the barest of minimum staffing levels due to the economic downturn.  Staff absenteeism will have all the more impact on day-to-day operations.

I know at my own place of employment we have layed off everyone we do not absolutely need to run our business.  And, not that I’m irreplaceable, but there is no one who could perform my job if I was out for a week or two due to a “nasty case of the flu”.  While that’s great for job security, it is dangerous from a business perspective and inconvenient on a personal level.  There is a surgery I would like to have done, need to have done, but not “critically”, but I cannot be away even long enough for a minimal recovery period.

My plight, and that of my employer, is not unique.  Sobering thoughts when considering a possible fall epidemic that could be quite widespread.

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3 Responses to Dusting off the cobwebs

  1. Jay S. says:

    With the consistent characterization of this “pandemic” as mild, I too find it disconcerting to see these recent announcements encouraging the pandemic planning strategies that we were more familiar with H5N1. For me I’m not waiting for any further official announcements…I’ve removed “if and when” from my dialogue.

  2. SophiaZoe says:

    Hey Jay. Good to see you.

    Ya know, there are times when fate has other ideas. I no sooner decided to “dust off” the ol’ blog here and things fell to pieces at work. I’m in one of those horrible “the faster I work, the behinder I get” loops. Pretty much ready to either blow it all up or run away to that mountaintop ;) .

    Developments on the H1N1 front have turned “concerning” though by no means egregiously so, at least not yet. A round-about way to say my concern grows and acknowledge that I believe there is still a whole passel of “growth” to go.

    It’s driving me to distraction that I cannot devote the concentration that developments warrant.

  3. Jay S. says:

    I know what you mean and it also means we each are prepared as best as we see fit. It’s this waiting for what lies ahead that has become a distraction for me.