Notebooks and VPNs: The tools of successful business continuity during a flu pandemic?

Summary:This morning, WBUR (one of the Boston-based affiliates of National Public Radio) carried a story that probed into the state of readiness of American businesses should the US get hit with a flu pandemic.  According to NPR and other reports regarding a 227-page plan that was issued by the White House today, a flu pandemic could send the country into an 18-month crisis that would result in 1.

This morning, WBUR (one of the Boston-based affiliates of National Public Radio) carried a story that probed into the state of readiness of American businesses should the US get hit with a flu pandemic.  According to NPR and other reports regarding a 227-page plan that was issued by the White House today, a flu pandemic could send the country into an 18-month crisis that would result in 1.9 million deaths and knock out as much as 40 percent of the country's business capacity for a period of time.  40 percent. 

Does that mean that 40 percent of America's working population might take ill? No.  But, according to this morning's broadcast, there's a variety of reasons that a flu pandemic could cause someone not to report to work.  For example, in addition to getting sick, some people may have to stay home to take care of sick family members.  Others may be fearful of taking public transportation to get to work (or just reporting to work).  In the end, for you, the question is what is your business continuity plan? Having a plan could mean the difference between going out of business or mutliplying your fortunes because you had a plan when your competitors didn't. 

I know.  Capitalizing on the misfortune of others sounds a bit callous. But, that's not what you'd be doing. You'd be capitalizing on your preparedness and the reality of the situation, as evidenced by the post-Katrina days, is that if you can keep your doors open for business when others could not, you will not only keep your current customers (aka: not lose them to the competitor), you will get new ones.  Call that shrewd.  But what are your choices?  You can do something about it now.  Or wait for your fate to be subject to forces over which you have no control.

So, what can you do?  See all those desktop systems in your offices?  How many of those people could telecommute if they had to and what are you waiting for?  Start thinking about getting them notebook computers.  If you don't have a standard for notebooks, think about setting one so you can keep spare parts like hard drives, memory cards, power supplies and extra batteries around that will work for everyone.  Once your end-users have them, test your plan.  Institute one day a week or one day a month as work-from-home day and see where things break down. Does your VPN have the capacity it needs to handle the load.  Are some people having connectivity problems.  Is  your security buttoned down so that no one gets onto the corporate Net without a personal firewall protecting their left flank (telecommuters who sometimes expose their systems to the raw Internet are a nasty back door for malware to sneak its way into the enterprise).

Then, in addition to physical gear and infrastructure, what other policies and procedures do you have in place? What role can your company play in making sure its employees and their families are getting their flu shots.  After all, if the kids are a key transmission chain for diseases like the flu (and they are because of school), then those kids are a risk to your business continuity.  What are you doing about it? What's the calling chain and who serves as the backup for who? The list goes on and on and on and I could never cover all the points here. And the point of this blog isn't to say the sky is falling.  The Boy Scout's motto is Be Prepared.  That doesn't mean something terrible is going to happen.  If nothing happens, then no harm is done whether your prepared or not.  But if something does happen, being prepared could literally mean the difference between the life and death of your business and the people who work for it (the latter of which is obviously most important).

Topics: Laptops

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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