We're in a pandemic, but there's still time to plan.

It is quite possible that by the time you have read this blog, the World Health Organization will have moved the planet to full pandemic influenza status by engaging the Phase Six protocol.

Now what Phase Six means is that the world is in the throes of a full-blown flu pandemic.  But it does not mean we are looking 1918 in the eye, nor does it mean we are looking at the 50%+ mortality rate from bird flu.

It does mean that the world is experiencing a novel virus with little to no human immunity, that it has found the way to jump species, infect humans with ridiculous ease, and is on every continent, doing its business of infecting humans. 

The big question is this:  What will this virus do in the late summer and fall?  Will it acquire the Tamiflu Resistance Geneset?  Will it get together somewhere in Egypt, or Indonesia, or China in this, the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, and Woodstock itself to H5N1 bird flu? 

Or will it simply go away, lose the fight against seasonal flu and disappear?

I have mentioned before, on this site and on my regular blogsite, www.scottmcpherson,net , that influenza plays King of the Mountain.  Whichever strain is the most adept at perpetuating itself will survive.  It is Darwin at its zenith. 

In the Southern Hemisphere, it is now officially flu season.  Everyone is watching with great anticipation if swine H1 will overtake the seasonal H1N1 and H3N2 viruses and expand its empire, or if it will be beaten back by the milder flus. 

If swine H1 is effectively dissipated by seasonal influenza, we may see an early end to the pandemic.  However, if swine H1 continues to gain a foothold and actually displace the seasonal flus, then we have no earthly idea what the virus will eventually look like once it has circled the globe and come back for a second wave.  Recall that pandemics come in waves, and no one knows how long a wave lasts in this age of quick intercontinental air travel and mass rapid transit.

But the one luxury you have -- which should not be squandered -- is the luxury of a (so far) mild to moderately severe virus.  So now is the time to finish your pandemic plans and acquire whatever you think you need to endure a likely second wave in the late summer or early fall.

Here are some things to consider:

No one knows who will get sick, but pandemics (and this pandemic is no exception) go after the young with fervor.  "Young" in this case seems to be anyone under age 60.  Most of these cases are of young people under age 40.  So you should consider what would happen if a disproportionate amount of your workforce -- people under 40 -- were absent for extended periods of time. 

First, help your employees understand what a flu pandemic is, and how to prepare themselves and their families.  Your employees will appreciate the information you will give them, and will appreciate the effort you undertake to make sure they and their families are better prepared. 

Work with your HR department and local public health authorities to get those brochures and information.  contact the Red Cross, local health department, and see what giveaway stuff they have.  Go pick up the stuff yourself if necessary. 

Remind people to wash their hands regularly and to sneeze or cough into their sleeves or arms, NOT on their hands.  Admonish those who fail to remember this simple step. Influenza virus will become inert on a sleeve after twelve hours.  It will remain on unwashed hands for much longer. 

It is amazing how these ridiculously simple steps will slow the spread of the virus.  It is equally amazing how many people will ignore that advice.  If someone doesn't wash their hands, say "Dude!  Wash your hands!"  Unless they are much larger than you, at which point you may simply sneeze onto them and run.

Cross-train and cross-train some more, at least to a depth of three.  And break down tasks.  Don't try to replicate someone's entire day.

Consider training people out of their element.  For example, who else can do tape rotation besides data center personnel?  Who can do simple administrative tasks within Exchange?  Who can post an emergency message on a corporate Website?

Don't put too much faith in telecommuting.  In my own opinion, telecommuting is overrated.  Not everyone has broadband, and organizations cannot afford to put broadband capability in every displaced employee's hands.  Look for those areas where telecommuting might play a temporary role and know when it won't work. 

For example, any process that involves taking paper forms and performing manual data entry is doomed to fail in a teleworked environment.  That is because you have to quarantine paper as well as establish the digital entry point for the worker to log into the system securely and remotely.  Influenza virus on paper becomes inert after 12 to 24 hours, but each time it is handled restarts that clock. 

That includes USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL, and courier services.  So a paper form for first-time applicants for unemployment conpensation, for example, could take several more days than normal for processing.

Scanning paper into, say, PDFs and emailing them home to socially distanced workers also creates problems if that data is sent to private ISPs with strict limits on attachment size. 

If you require employees to do work from home, on their own equipment, you are in for a world of hurt.  Securing those home PCs will be a major hassle.  Establishing VPNs with the ability to enforce policy compliance with antivirus and malware detection is essential.  this also means an organization should pay for the antivirus and antimalware software licenses.

Help desks need to be converted to socially-distanced operations.  This is easy if you have deployed VoIP or similar technology, or use "softphones" on agency laptops. 

Be prepared to support them on their own equipment.  Be prepared to buy them Microsoft Office, antivirus/antimalware, etc. legally, you cannot force them to buy their own.  Or else be ready to supply them with laptops.  No broadband?  Here come the cellcard broadband modems?  What? A nightmare?  You can't afford all this?  See, I told you telework is overrated.

You are better off scheduling keypunch operators in shifts, minimizing their physical proximity to one another and to increase the space between them.  This may mean going to 24-hour operations.  So be it.  This is not business as usual, so business as usual is thrown out the window.

And do not forget the lost morale that will come if managers are securely sealed away at their homes while the plebes have to come in to the office, slave over a hot PC or terminal all day, and risk exposing them and all their loved ones to the virus.  You need to lead.  That means being seen in their environment.

Next, check to see how your suppliers are handling any reduction in the flow of the just-in-time supply chain.  Recall SARS:  the virus created massive supply chain strains, even though Americans were largely unaffected by the virus. A flu pandemic will usually impact Asia much more than it does the Western nations.  Check to see what items might get constrained and see what you can do to pull additional quantities in, especially consumables.

Check with your sanitation and cleaning people and set up a schedule that eliminates vacuuming on weekdays.  Vacuuming should only be performed on weekends, preferably Saturdays.  This is because influenza virus becomes inert and drops to the carpet or floor.  Vacuuming stirs up that virus again, energizes it and restores it to the air to be inhaled.

Move those vacuumers over to cleaning all solid contact surfaces, such as staircase railings, elevator buttons, door handles and countertops.  Influenza virus can live on solid surfaces for days.

Non-carpeted floors should be cleaned on a regular basis. 

And now, today if possible, get up with your organization's leadership; place a list of IT services in front of them; and ask which services can be turned off, or allowed to fail without restart, during a pandemic.  Remind them that you will need to prioritize your staff and not all IT services are essential in a serious pandemic.

OK, let's go to work.

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