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Remember the pandemic threat? (Some) IT planners do

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  • Remember the pandemic threat? (Some) IT planners do

    Remember the pandemic threat? (Some) IT planners do

    It's still an issue for some Gartner conference attendees, even as media turns away

    November 28, 2007 (Computerworld) -- The avian flu has a plot line similar to a Stephen King novel. It's a menacing presence, mysterious and somewhat hidden, striking in out-of-way places and threatening broader havoc -- a global evil. And until this year it was a bestseller in newsrooms, spurring headlines that raised public attention and spurred organizations to plan for it.

    But media interest in the threat of a pandemic has fallen off. In a report this summer about pandemic planning, the White House said that attention to the pandemic has "waned in the media," while "the threat of avian influenza and the potential for an influenza pandemic has not."

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office followed up in a report last month, and said the challenge for many organizations is "maintaining a focus on pandemic planning due to the uncertainty of when a pandemic may occur" and the need to address more immediate issues.

    "There's been a bit of what we call pandemic fatigue," said Dr. Myles Druckman, vice president of medical assistance of International SOS, a health and safety consulting service with some 4,500 employees worldwide. "When it fell out of the media, it also fell out of a lot of clients' priority list ... because now they weren't being pushed, not only by the media but by their employees," he said.

    In interviews of attendees at the Gartner Inc.'s data center conference this week in Las Vegas, IT managers said they were nonetheless continuing to prepare for the potential.

    Just a few months ago, Bob Kallas, a director of computer support services at a company he didn't want named, said his firm conducted a test to see how many workers it could support remotely. The company picked a day and then told several hundred employees to work from home. "We want to measure readiness to be able to support the company," he said.

    Richard Siedzik, the director of computer and telecommunications services at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, says pandemic planning continues at his university, with bi-monthly meetings held specifically to address the issue. From an IT perspective, he said, the major planning issue remains continuing operations if the university is forced to close, which mostly means ensuring there's enough remote access capacity on various systems.

    But Siedzik said IT is only a small part of the overall planning challenge. For instance, the university has to prepare for the possibility that some students won't be able to return home because of quarantines in their community. "We have to make arrangements to sustain students on our campus," he said.

    Chuck Conway, IT operations manager at an energy firm he didn't identify, said pandemic planning has become part of the company's overall business continuity planning, and he said they have examined their capacity to support remote workers and have developed scenarios. He said increased media attention on this issue may prompt more IT spending to build out even more capacity, but for now "we can live with what we have."

    The avian influenza has killed a little more than 200 people, about half in Indonesia. The fear is that the virus will change into something that's easily spread by people, touching off a global pandemic.

    Earlier this fall, financial services groups along with the U.S. Department of Treasury conducted a three-week planning scenario, and planned for pandemic that would kill about 1.7 million people in the U.S. and hospitalize 9 million. About 10,000 people from 3,000 companies participated in what may have been largest test of its kind in the world.

    But when organizers held a press conference to announce preliminary details from the test, it received little in the way of press attention, except from trade publications, said Jim Binder, a spokesman for The Operations Clearing Corp., a Chicago-based provider of derivatives clearing and settlement service. Binder was involved in the overall organizing effort. "It's not as sensational to talk about bird flu today as it was a year ago," he said.

    The avian flu remains a focal point of a number of diligent blogs. Among them is the H5N1 blog maintained by Crawford Kilian, a writer who teaches at a Canadian college. In response to some questions, he wrote in a note: "Business planning for a pandemic is like making your will -- because you have to contemplate something awful, you'd rather not contemplate it at all. So if the media aren't nagging us, we'll put it off. The Catch-22 is that they won't nag us unless people are dying daily and in growing numbers."

    Computerworld covers a range of technology topics, with a focus on these core areas of IT: Windows, Mobile, Apple/enterprise, Office and productivity suites, collaboration, web browsers and blockchain, as well as relevant information about companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google.

  • #2
    Re: Remember the pandemic threat? (Some) IT planners do

    ... "So if the media aren't nagging us, we'll put it off. The Catch-22 is that they won't nag us unless people are dying daily and in growing numbers."" ...