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Marsh Advises Businesses to Prepare For Swine Flu

Posted on 29 Apr 2009

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With the growing number of cases of swine flu (A/H1N1) reported among humans in Mexico, the U.S., Canada, U.K., Spain, and suspected cases in several other countries, leading insurance broker and risk advisor, Marsh, recommends that businesses, government entities, colleges and universities, and other organizations review their business continuity and crisis management plans and revise or update them to make sure they address the various challenges that could arise from a possible human pandemic.

"While many firms have procedures or crisis management plans to address emergencies that can affect business continuity, they may not adequately cover a situation involving communicable diseases that can affect employees and the general population on a wide scale," said Gary Lynch, a managing director of Marsh and global leader of the firm's Supply Chain Risk Management Practice. "Even businesses that prepared pandemic plans during the past few years may not have tested them."

A pandemic could escalate quickly, last for months, and infect 25% or more of the world's population, according to public health experts. Many organizations believe that at the peak of a severe pandemic, up to 75% of the workforce may be absent from work.

To address this potential risk, firms need to monitor the situation very closely, paying particular attention to government and World Health Organization (WHO) advice, and examine and possibly amend their existing pandemic, business continuity and crisis management plans, accordingly.

Mr. Lynch advises managers to evaluate their firm’s risk management controls, human resource and other pandemic policies, as well as update their crisis management plans and crisis communications capabilities based on the threat of a pandemic. Additionally, there are preventive and preparatory actions that can and should be taken now, including:

* Prioritize their business activities, and review and understand any potential impacts to their supply chains.

* Review company travel policies, hygiene and medical screening policies, and policies on anti-viral medications and health care support, including providing anti-bacterial sanitizer, masks, and other materials.

* Identify possible social-distancing and other means to minimize exposure and spread of illness within the work place.

* Review methods for providing ongoing information about both the pandemic threat and the status of the business to employees at work and at home.

* In cities and other major population centers, make sure the plans allow for staff to work at home where possible and appropriate.

* Consider any vital processes that must be maintained at a central location in a pandemic, such as call centers, health services, and services vital to the vulnerable.

* Review the structure necessary to manage the crisis effectively. This includes how to implement multiple business continuity plans, cope with significant increases in the number of employees working from home and substantial changes to the marketplace and the supply chain.

* Make sure crisis management and business continuity management plans include pandemic scenarios and exercise the plans where possible.

"The focus of business continuity planning and management should be to reduce exposure, proactively minimize impacts, communicate extensively, minimize peaks of absenteeism, plan for the possible recurrence of flu, and constantly adjust business activity and the supply chain to reflect shifts in the local and global marketplace," said Mr. Lynch.

The WHO elevated its Pandemic Alert for this virus to "Level Four," which reflects limited infection among the human population and cases reported in multiple countries. The higher pandemic alert indicates the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable. Should "Level Five" be declared, the WHO considers it "a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short."

According to Marsh, if the WHO declares the threat for any pandemic to be "Level Six" (widespread human infection), businesses will need the following:

* A crisis management plan that includes tailored elements for pandemic, including policies for business travel, locating staff, social-distancing and medical screening and an extensive awareness and communications plan and process.

* An alternative workforce or work-at-home policy and plan in the event that a large portion of the workforce is or may be impacted by pandemic.

* A strategy for taking special precautions to assess the health of the workforce and potentially turn back infected workers who report for work.

* A process for dealing with emotional impacts of such events as death on the individual's family members and on the workforce in general.

* A process for orderly shut down or reduced service delivery based on reductions of customer demand, labor force, raw material supply, or energy resources.

* Continuity procedures for core functions that must be kept running.

* A structure and process for working collaboratively with third-party suppliers to maintain critical flows of supplies, business services, and product

About Marsh

Marsh has 24,000 employees and provides advice and transactional capabilities to clients in over 100 countries. Marsh is one of the operating companies of Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC), a global professional services firm with more than 55,000 employees and annual revenue exceeding $11 billion.