Business Planning for Pandemics

March 26, 2015

 March 26, 2015 - This week’s guest blog post is from Jim Williams and Janet Toliver, the University of Chicago researchers that will be analyzing the results of the Pandemic Preparedness Survey. Here are their thoughts on why they are researching this topic:

The objective of the questionnaire is to gain insight into how organizations perceive the threat of a virulent pandemic, and evaluate the current guidance for organizations to perform pandemic planning, identify the strengths, weaknesses and gaps.

Pandemic planning is not unlike other emergencies that organizations plan for, but the global nature of the pandemic is unlike other hazards an organization may face. Asia is the most probable source of the next Influenza outbreak, so supply chain interruptions can be expected approximately 5 weeks before the first wave of the pandemic reaches the United States (US). The first wave of the pandemic is expected to last 6-8 weeks, with a 2-3 month lull and then a successive or 2nd (and possibly 3rd) wave occurring and it too lasting 6-8 weeks. Vaccines are not expected to be ready for general distribution for 4-6 months after the initial wave.

Are current guidelines with respect to planning and preparation detailed enough (or too detailed) so that corporations across the (US) can properly plan for a contingency such as the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic? The current Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidelines suggest that in the worst-case scenario 1-6 % of the population of the US will die, and 25% - 35% will become symptomatic (come down with the Flu). And at the height of the pandemic, that companies, Federal, state, county and community governments can expect 40%-50% absenteeism.

The absenteeism could be caused from mandatory social distancing, fear, schools being closed and parents needing to stay home, mandatory quarantines due to an ill member of the family being isolated at home and other reasons.

With illness and absenteeism at those high levels, everyday routines will be interrupted, travel curtailed, local and national businesses may consolidate their operations due to absenteeism. Could there be issues with power and water suppliers? If a family is quarantined at home, how will basic necessities be delivered? These are a few considerations above and beyond the typical analysis of whether employee’s can work from home.

On behalf of the University of Chicago researchers, we appreciate the cooperation of Rx Response and all of their members in taking part in the survey. We look forward to sharing the results in the coming months.


Janet Toliver & Jim Williams

MSc in Threat & Response Management, Candidates

Janet Toliver and Jim Williams

Janet Toliver and Jim Williams are Candidates for MSc in Threat & Response Management at the University of Chicago