Swine flu? What it means for IT professionals

Swine flu? What it means for IT professionals

Summary: The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed 64 cases of swine flu in the United States and as other countries including Canada (6), New Zealand (3), the United Kingdom (2), Israel (2), Spain (2), and now Germany have confirmed cases, the World Health Organization has raised the worldwide pandemic threat level to Phase 4. This means health officials have confirmed that the disease can spread person-to-person and has the potential to cause "community-level" outbreaks.


The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed 64 cases of swine flu in the United States and as other countries including Canada (6), New Zealand (3), the United Kingdom (2), Israel (2), Spain (2), and now Germany have confirmed cases, the World Health Organization has raised the worldwide pandemic threat level to Phase 4. This means health officials have confirmed that the disease can spread person-to-person and has the potential to cause "community-level" outbreaks. The CDC recommends avoiding travel to Mexico and if you get sick, to stay home from work. Large numbers of employees out sick will impact the business (revenue) and cost your company a lot of money in productivity loss (you still pay employees their salary when they're out).

Stopping the spread of the disease and treating those infected is obviously a health issue but the swine flu outbreak does have implications for IT professionals the short term and long term. First, if you haven't done so already, you need find a copy of your bird flu business continuity plan (BCP) that your company developed in 2006 and call a walk through exercise immediately. And if your responsibility is IT disaster recovery and not necessarily business continuity, don't wait around for someone else to dust of the plan and call the exercise, this is too important to wait, call your CIO, CISO, COO, and CEO and tell them it needs to be done now. There's a good chance that the plan is out of date and that it hasn't been exercised in a long time.

A plan walk through is no substitute for a more thorough exercise but its a good place to start. This will help you:

  • Validate the currency of the plan and the procedures.
  • Validating team member, roles and responsibilities.
  • Understand what technology and services you currently have in place.

After the plan walk through, you will need to conduct a more thorough exercise that will validate team member competence, the time to execute each activity and validate the technology you have in place to support the plan including:

  • Automated communication and notification solutions for crisis and emergency communication.
  • Remote access procedures to ensure that the greatest number of employees can effectively work from if there is a "community-level" outbreak and more travel restrictions.

As you dust of the plan, update it, and exercise it, you've also got to make sure the you roll out a training and awareness program so that employees know what to expect in terms of communication from senior management, where to go for information and what to do when and if you invoke your pandemic BCP. So as IT, this might not be your responsibility but you need to raise the issue during exercises.

What swine flu has done is reminded us all of the necessity to plan for threat scenarios that affect people more than they do data centers and other physical corporate facilities. Alternate work area facilities, mobile recovery units, and other workforce recovery strategies aren't effective when people are home sick or there are travel bans in place. In these scenarios your workforce recovery strategy must rely on remote access solutions or virtual workforce solutions.

In a recent joint Forrester and Disaster Recovery Journal survey, we asked 285 BC/DR decision makers if their company had strategies for workforce recovery in their BCPs, 68% said yes. This means that 32% of you out there have a lot of work to do. Of the 68% that have strategies in place, 86% use remote access procedures as part of their strategy.

Remote access or virtual workforce solutions can be as simple as VPN procedures for employees with laptops or remote desktop solutions like Citrix GoToMyPC or LogMeIn or more advanced solutions like desktop virtualization or application virtualization. Bottom line, you want employees to be able to access their data and applications so long as they can get to a computer with Internet access.

You also have to think about your own employees, how will you run IT operations if key employees are out sick or can't get to work. There's a lot you can do remotely but not everything. You have to ask yourself how many employees have your cross-trained for other job functions? Can your storage administrators run backups? Could your server admins allocate storage or debug a storage network problem? Cross-training in critical functions is another part of workforce recovery or I should say workforce continuity.

I have an upcoming report that looks at the human side of business continuity and disaster recovery planning. I'm interested to hear how the swine flu has changed your priorities and how senior management as asked IT to help in the response.

Topics: CXO, Storage, IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Swine Flu is not Bird Flu

    Our company's plan for bird flu is *wildly* different than for this one. We used the 1918 Spanish Flu as our bird flu model, which has a 1% fatality rate for healthy 20-40 year olds.

    If something like that were to hit we simply cease operations. End of story. With a 1% fatality rate 1-2 people in our company are guaranteed to die. Possibly not an employee, but an employee spouse, or relative.

    Shutting down and waiting a week for the outbreak to die down is the only moral solution. That's always assuming the civil authorities didn't do something like Mexico did and tell everyone to stay home. Frankly, for something with even moderate lethality that's about the only viable solution.

    This swine flu, while it can be deadly, does not appear to approach the leathality of the 1918 flu. Yes a lot of people in Mexico have died, and that is a tragedy. But if this swine flue were as deadly as bird/Spanish flu is supposed to be only 2,000 people or so could have gotten sick. Pardon me for being a cynic but I suspect the actual number of cases are *far* higher, especially if this flu is as transmissible as it appears to be.

    I think it's a little too early to be pulling a Chicken Little maneuver just yet.
  • Wished we had tested our pandemic plans

    We're scrambling today to find all the gaps in our pandemic plan. While we've tested normal business continuity plans (the building burned down or is otherwise inaccessible), we've never really done a test of our remote access plan and procedures, which are key in our pandemic plan, and we're finding gaps & lapses as we go. These would have been immediately evident if we'd done an exercise or 2 specifically for pandemics.
  • RE: Swine flu? What it means for IT professionals

    I am cutting down my overseas trip because of this flu problem. Will be restricted myself to work from home instead.

    If you are accessing very sensitive data, it is best to utilise vpn with high level of encryption eg. 2048 bit.

    I have one handy whenever i am overseas for work. Can't imagine what kind of data will be expose through those free wifi spot. Having own vpn is better.

    Talking about vpn, don't get the pptp which provide only 128 bit encryption level. It can be break easily man in the middle now. Go for openvpn w/ 2048 bit which is safer.

  • VPN and web conferencing use rises

    I work in a large, urban medical research facility and we're getting everyone instructions and support for VPN access and PC web conferencing. Due to the recession, travel dollars are already cut drastically and if there is a pandemic then we will have options available to keep working. I work from home a few times a month already and it has been a win-win. But I am not a Doctor or Nurse who sees patients on a regular basis or a researcher who does not have a medical lab in his/her home, they are ones I worry about. I sure hope no one takes ill and am hopeful this virus won't mutate much more and really get bad.
  • You'd better damn re-evaluate bud.

    If you go back and check the latest statistics, this swine flu HAS a 1%+ fatality rate.

    United States, (As of April 29, 2009, 11:00 AM ET) 91 confirmed cases, 1 fatality. That's 1.1% (rounded up).

    Mexico, 2,498 suspected cases, 160 suspected deaths. That's 6.4%
    • Zombie Plague

      Swine Flu and Avian Flu are small time. I'm worried about the coming Zombie Plague, or, if you prefer <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_Z">"African Rabies"</a>. Because, you know, the end is near.

      C'mon, seriously. Right now, you have a better chance of getting hit by lightening or winning the lottery than getting the Mexican Swine Flu. Don't get me wrong, it's good to prepare for the worst by testing your DRP, but let's be realistic here, okay?
      For starters, 150 deaths do not a "pandemic" make. The media has thrown that word around a lot lately, but it's not really what's happening. The 1918 Flu Pandemic had thousands dying *daily*. They died so fast that there wasn't time to deal with all the bodies. That's not even close to happening yet. Now, if it does, I'll start to panic.
      Secondly, everyone is comparing this to Avian Flu. But, realistically, how many businesses were actually effected by the Avian Flu? I never saw anyone with a case of it, never heard of anyone at any of the four locations for my company, in the States and UK, contracting it. So, again, sans media hype to sell advertising time, how bad was that "pandemic"?

      How about this... Why not just take a nice, deep breath and throttle back a bit. Test your plan, or make one if you don't have one already, then wait to see how things develop before declaring that the End Times are upon us.
    • *Confirmed* cases

      How many more cases are out there that weren't confirmed? How many were ignored initially because the victim suffered no worse than a regular flu?

      CDC does one hell of a job, but tracking one strain of flu among many isn't exactly easy, is it?

      And there's still the mystery of why the fatality rate in Mexico is 6 times the US rate. That, admittedly is worrisome.

      The US victim was actually Mexican, and 2 years old, both of which raised the lethality potential well beyond the norm. The fact the victim was Mexican also raises a doubt as to which category his death should be placed in--Mexico or US?

      The 1918 flu leathality was 1% across the board, with an estimated 20-40 million dying world wide.

      With the exception of the 2 year old in Texas (who was Mexican and apparently contracted the flu in Mexico) there have been no deaths outside Mexico, according to this article:


      Don't get me wrong, this could have been the next 1918 flu--but it appears it isn't.

      Panic helps no one. Mexico is taking this very seriously, and basically shutting down for a week to contain the virus. Makes perfect sense to me. And it's apparently working too.

      There's a world of difference in making contingincy plans for a disease that takes out a lot of your employees for a few days and one that *kills* them.

      Don't ignore, but don't panic either. That's all I'm saying.
  • RE: Swine flu? What it means for IT professionals

    I would encourage IT professionals to follow my blogs at www.scottmcpherson.net, or follow me on Twitter (@scottwmcpherson), and follow my links to my other pandemic blogs that are specifically tailored to the IT professional.

    Finally, the Florida CIO Council has the best IT-oriented pandemic Website in the world. Maybe the ONLY IT-oriented pandemic Website in the world. www.bpr.state.fl.us/pandemic is the URL and you can download a world of info on how to prepare.

    And yes, there's still time.
  • I agree and here is more

    If you do some research 36,000, yes that is 36 thousand Americans, yes just Americans not global, died this year alone from the common flu.

    Yet it doesn't seem to be getting the attention swine flu is getting. Remember the Bird flu. That has already proven to more deadly. Bird Flu statistics from 2003 to 2009 there have been 421 confirmed human cases, 257 death from those cases, 61% mortality rate. Yes it is deadly if you catch it.

    Now compare your odds of dying from the swine flu, with 150 deaths globally, with a global population of 6,776,755,908 estimated by US census. Right now you rhcances of dying from the swine flu are 1 in 45,178,372.

    Your chances of getting hit by lightning in the US are 1 in 240,000, heck your chance of being killed by excution for a crime in the US is 1 in 4,297,630, that is a yearly odds, not a life time. You odds of dying from a car accident this year is 1 in 17,625.

    So quit fearing everything, pull your head out of your ass and realize that it is not that big of a deal. I will tell you what this means for IT. A bunch of scared people because the media is out spreading horrible fear and news. Increased morons spreading and building on fear. Spammers and virus writers sending out fake emails with headlines like Swine flue in your area or something like that. The economy wouldn't be in as bad of shape if it wasn't for the fear spread by the media which stopped consumers spending. Now they are spreading fear again. Remember the everyone needs to buy duct tape to seal their house from chemical terrorist weapons. Sheesh when will people learn.
  • RE: Swine flu? What it means for IT professionals

    The media just loves to scare the public.

    Enough with the swine flu. WHO reported that there have only been 7 recorded deaths not 167 as reported by the media. If you live in the states you have nothing to worry about. The only people who have died from this have been people who live in the country in mexico and have no access to medical care.

  • RE: Swine flu? What it means for IT professionals

    Route1 offers solutions during emergencies like this. It allows companies to work from home within 30 seconds. www.route1.com

    They have been delivering solutions for this type of pandemic since 2005.

  • is media frenzy clouding our sense of perspective?

    It is sad that swine flu cases have passed 64 and that so much attention needs to be drawn from other equally and perhaps more serious issues. IT professionals do need to drawing up contingency plans but priorities need to be considered too. However after reading the article it would follow that IT people will have nothing else to do but prepare such plans. What of all the other health related causes of illness and death? Do they require plans too? Take for example that Heart Disease related deaths reached 652,091 in the US in 2005. Is that a pandemic too? What sort of plans need to be developed when 5,292 young people died from gun related violence in 2004. How many people, alas, die from automobile related accidents each day? Should a plan be made for people to start walking to work? The list goes on and on. Developing plans require judgement and allocating scarce resources for their implmentation. Rational choices based upon an assessment of the REAL not imagined risk. Perhaps instead some consideration should made in developing a plan to deal with effects of media frenzy on setting our priorities?