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IT Caught Off Guard by Flu Pandemic Warning

Call to make quarantine preparations a priority is ‘eye-opener’ for execs

By Patrick Thibodeau
December 4, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - LAS VEGAS -- Gartner Inc. is recommending that businesses complete planning by the second quarter of next year for a possible avian influenza pandemic and in particular stock up on supplies that would be needed by data center workers who might be quarantined together.

Among the suggestions offered last week by Gartner analyst Ken McGee at the consulting firm’s annual data center conference here: Store 42 gallons of water per data center employee — enough for a six-week quarantine — and don’t forget about food, medical care, cooking facilities, sanitation and electricity.

In a quarantined environment, “you are not going anywhere,” McGee said.

McGee’s presentation caught the attention of John Stingl, chief technology officer at Russell Investment Group. During the session, Stingl said later, he sent a note on his handheld to his administrative assistant asking that a meeting about Russell Investment’s pandemic-specific planning be arranged back at the company’s Tacoma, Wash., office.

Stingl said the investment firm has a good disaster recovery and business continuity plan. But after hearing McGee’s stark warning, Stingl said he wants to know more about the company’s plans for a pandemic. “It was an eye-opener,” Stingl said of the presentation.

Brad Kowal, associate director of Shands HealthCare’s data center, said the Gainesville, Fla.-based medical center has had its hands full dealing with business continuity planning aimed at protecting against hurricanes. “And then you throw this in [and are told to] get it done by the second quarter. It’s literally stun and shock for me,” he said.

A Shared Responsibility

McGee said pandemic planning costs should total no more than 5% of an IT budget, but he stressed that the burden shouldn’t be absorbed by the IT budget alone — it should be shared throughout a company.

Among the things companies should do, McGee said, is decide whether they intend to keep their data centers operating during a pandemic. And then, if they do plan to keep IT operations going, they should consider preparing for up to a 12-week quarantine.

Gartner recommends that companies conduct educational sessions with employees so they know how to prepare their own households for a pandemic. In the office, one person should be made responsible for planning, and business continuity plans will have to be adapted for a pandemic, McGee said. He added that IT should oversee installation of broadband services to the homes of its most critical employees but also assume that there may be failures in public networks.

One person in attendance, who said he works at a Fortune 100 insurance company but requested anonymity, said his company has taken pandemic planning seriously.

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