Business interruptus: Prep now to avoid H1N1 flu outages later

Don't be fooled by the mild flu season so far. Even a contained swine flu outbreak could disable IT departments on short notice.

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Check in with your DR outsourcers

If you've contracted with a third party for disaster recovery, take a close look at that contract. In many cases, the contract includes the facility and the equipment, but not the professionals who perform the work.

If the flu is causing many clients to turn to outsourced facilities, these providers will be under tremendous stress, says Burton. "If these third-party disaster recovery services can even staff up, under a pandemic situation the per-hour fee for subject-matter experts is going to be exorbitant," he says. According to the scarcity dynamics forecast by his firm, an e-mail administrator could cost $850 an hour, if one can be found at all, he maintains.

Many disaster recovery firms are busily signing contracts now with staffing agencies that have skill sets in areas where they have recovery sites. "We are aware of two firms that are actively putting locks, with guaranteed pay rates, on key platform expertise to make sure they can handle the professional services requirement that will occur during [flu] declarations," says Burton.

Also make sure you know where key information -- such as passwords and license keys -- are kept, in case your CIO or whoever is your keeper of this information becomes ill. This is a common oversight, says Burton. "I'll ask them to open up the e-mail recovery section of their disaster recovery plan and show me their Exchange license key and admin password. Ninety percent of our customers fail that test," he says.

Monitor the flu's progression

Have an early warning system for flu outbreaks. In addition to monitoring information from the CDC, pay close attention to the local news in areas where your company has a presence. Did the local high school just send 100 students home with the flu? If flu cases are rising rapidly in a given area, work with HR to increase the precautions at that facility and make sure the other steps outlined above have been put in place.

Take care of employees post-flu

Finally, pay special attention when employees return to work, says Burton. Workers may be physically weak or emotionally stressed. In addition to being sick herself, an employee may have been caring for sick family members as well. Or perhaps he's under economic pressure because he or another household breadwinner lost income or incurred expenses because of the flu. If the pandemic becomes particularly virulent, an employee may even experience the death of a friend or family member.

Burton suggests having a 10-minute intake interview to catch up with returning employees and to remind them of benefits like employee assistance programs. "If not handled carefully, the aftereffects of the flu on employees could be substantial. It will require a degree of vigilance to keep the upset these events might cause from spilling over into the workplace," he says.

Frequent Computerworld contributor Tam Harbert is a Washington, D.C.-based writer specializing in technology, business and public policy. She can be contacted through her Web site, TamHarbert.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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