Case Study:  Pandemic Preparedness


Case Study:  Pandemic Preparedness

Situation

The H5N1 virus has been highly lethal with a case fatality rate (CFR) of over 50%; significantly higher than the 1918 influenza and the more recent SARS epidemic. Human H5N1 cases have required direct contact with infected birds but, if H5N1 were to adapt to enable person to person transmission and maintain a high CFR, a devastating human pandemic could result.  Bellwether was engaged to examine preparedness for a pandemic event within large US corporations.
   

Approach

21 corporations were recruited to participate in a roundtable discussion and benchmarking on corporate preparedness for avian flu.  A wide range of industries were represented including: financial services, aerospace, defense, transportation, pharmaceuticals, technology, hardware, software, telecommunications, utilities and healthcare.  Working together with the Center for Biosecurity, Bellwether developed a day-long program for the companies involving experts in all key aspects of the subject.  Each company was required to complete a questionnaire on their preparedness program, and the results from this were included in a series of presentations followed by a facilitated discussion session where company representatives shared approaches and issues on topics of interest they had chosen.

Analysis & Results

In the past, pandemic outbreaks have happened fast and in multiple locations, simultaneously. Were a serious outbreak to occur in the near-term, businesses should expect to be affected for well over a year. Global travel, urban crowding, international supply chains, an aging population and a weakened public health system make the US more vulnerable than before.  With SARS, isolation and infection control worked but fever screening, quarantining and travel restrictions did not (SARS had spread to 29 countries before WHO issued its first alert).  Influenzas are different; they are contagious earlier, spread more extensively and incubate more quickly.  Working from home is a likely consequence and corporate business continuity planning must be adapted for such a scenario.

Benefits to Client

At the time of the forum, pandemic planning was about a year old at most companies and all had programs underway.  The roundtable format provided the opportunity for many to learn about alternative approaches to common problems, share methodologies and discuss issues.  Each industry would be affected differently by a pandemic event, and all companies benefited from the wide variety of perspectives and approaches from other industries. Best practices in situational awareness, communications, crisis management, emergency response, travel, employee protection, working remotely, facility care, healthcare community liaison, drilling, training and overall resilience were shared.  In a follow-up communication, there was strong agreement that the forum had been unique and extremely valuable.