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Pandemic Threat Still Getting IT's Attention

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  • Pandemic Threat Still Getting IT's Attention

    Pandemic Threat Still Getting IT's Attention

    Public interest in the avian flu has diminished. But some IT managers are continuing to prepare for an outbreak.

    December 03, 2007 (Computerworld) -- The avian flu is following a plot line that could have come out of a Stephen King novel. It?s a menacing presence but remains mysterious, striking in out-of-the-way places while threatening havoc via a global pandemic. And until this year, the flu was a best-seller with the media, spurring employers to plan for a possible outbreak.

    Coverage of the bird flu threat has fallen off, along with some of the drive to prepare for a pandemic. The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report released in October that many organizations face a challenge in ?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 services at International SOS, a company with dual headquarters in Singapore and London that provides health and security services to multinational businesses.

    Despite the drop in public interest, several IT managers said at Gartner Inc.?s annual data center conference in Las Vegas last week that they are continuing to prepare for a potential pandemic.

    Richard Siedzik, director of computer and telecommunications services at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., said that school officials hold bimonthly pandemic planning meetings. The major IT issue, he added, is ensuring that operations won?t shut down completely if the university is forced to suspend classes and close its offices.

    That primarily means making sure that various systems at Bryant have enough remote access capacity to support employees working from home, he said.

    Bryant is also preparing for the possibility that some students won?t be able to return home during a pandemic because of quarantines in their communities. ?We have to make arrangements to sustain students on our campus,? Siedzik said.

    Chuck Conway, IT operations manager at an energy company that he asked not be identified, said preparing for a pandemic has become part of his employer?s overall business continuity planning process. IT officials have evaluated systems? ability to support remote workers and have developed contingency scenarios in case a pandemic strikes, he said.

    Renewed media attention to the possibility of a pandemic might help loosen corporate purse strings and enable the IT department to further boost remote access support, he added. But for now, Conway said, ?we can live with what we have.?

    Thus far, avian influenza has killed just over 200 people worldwide, with about half of the deaths occurring in Indonesia. But public health officials and medical researchers are concerned that the bird flu virus may eventually be easily spread from person to person, a development that could touch off a global outbreak.

    If that were to happen, quarantines and restrictions on travel could force large numbers of employees to work from home. Meanwhile, IT staffers might be asked to take on added responsibilities or even to temporarily live at corporate offices.

    Bob Kallas, a director of computer support services at a company that he didn?t want to be named, said his firm recently conducted a real-world test to see how many remote workers it could support. Company officials told several hundred employees to work from home one day.

    ?We wanted to measure our readiness to be able to support the company,? Kallas said. The test showed, he added, that there is enough capacity to meet his employer?s needs.

    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.