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Pandemic Planning Not At Fever Pitch

Some IT execs are preparing for flu outbreak, but broad interest appears to be waning. By Patrick Thibodeau

By Patrick Thibodeau
July 16, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - James Seligman, CIO at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may be among the first people to know if the U.S. is struck by a pandemic, such as an avian flu outbreak. Seligmans IT staff is building a system that will enable the CDC to collect emergency room data in real time from hospitals around the country.

But Seligman is also focused on ensuring that the federal agencys IT operations can continue delivering essential services to its employees during a pandemic or other public health emergency. And, he said, the Atlanta-based CDC has made some big strides in that regard over the past 18 months.

For instance, the agency has dramatically increased the capacity of IT systems to support employees working remotely. Remote access support has risen from several hundred simultaneous user sessions to several thousand as a result of an expansion in server capacity and the purchase of more Citrix software licenses, Seligman said.

James Seligman
James Seligman
In addition, the CDC has crossed-trained IT workers in an effort to make sure that key systems can continue to run in an emergency. And it has installed showers and stockpiled cots, face masks and other supplies to make it possible for the IT staff to work long hours if necessary.

Seligman thinks theres no choice but to prepare for a pandemic. At the CDC, he works with scientists who are deeply involved in the issue and believe that a pandemic is inevitable. Its not a question of if, but when, he said. So the sooner that companies and families and communities and states are prepared, the better.

But many other IT organizations dont appear to be ready, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Ken McGee. At a Gartner data center conference in Las Vegas last November, McGee gave a presentation on the risk of an avian flu pandemic. He recommended that the IT professionals in the audience prepare a pandemic response plan by the end of this years second quarter.

Despite his admonition, McGee is worried that fears of a possible pandemic are waning in the U.S. Most of Gartners clients would not be prepared if this descended upon the world tomorrow  they just simply would not be ready, he said. I think its just part of the human condition: You dont put the stop sign up until after the traffic accident.

The declining level of concern cited by McGee was backed up by poll results released July 2 by Ipsos Public Affairs, a research organization that has offices in New York, Washington and other U.S. cities.

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