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Pandemic Outbreak and the Impact of Quarantine on Business Operations

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What exactly constitutes a "pandemic" outbreak? What impact would such an event have in the 21st century? How would you keep your business operations functioning in the event of a regional quarantine? Is your organization prepared for such an event? Randy Nash looks at the historical impact of pandemic outbreaks, the preparation and planning that has taken place, and the potential impact that could be expected.

There’s a virus on the loose, and it could drastically affect your business operations. This one is not a computer virus... it's influenza. Not the regular flu that hits every year, but a pandemic outbreak that will have a worldwide impact.

Introduction

Ever since the first outbreaks of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus began in late 2002 there have been warnings about the potential of a pandemic flu. So far these predictions have not come true. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that, historically and statistically, the world is "now overdue" for an influenza pandemic. Pandemics have occurred every 20-30 years, but it has been nearly 40 years since the last one.

A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A pandemic occurs when an epidemic (an outbreak of an infectious disease) spreads across a large region (for example a continent), or even worldwide. More simply, a pandemic is a worldwide epidemic. If a pandemic occurs, it is likely to be a prolonged and widespread outbreak that could require temporary changes in many areas of society such as schools, work, transportation and other public services. Government agencies are taking steps to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic. First, there is a National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza. This Strategy provides a framework that outlines how Federal and State government, private sector organizations, and individual citizens can prepare for such an event. It is based on three pillars:

  1. Preparedness and Communication: Activities that should be undertaken before a pandemic to ensure preparedness and the communication of roles and responsibilities to all levels of government, segments of society and individuals.
  2. Surveillance and Detection: Domestic and international systems that provide continuous "situational awareness," to ensure the earliest warning possible to protect the population.
  3. Response and Containment: Actions to limit the spread of the outbreak and to mitigate the health, social and economic impacts of a pandemic.

Next, the National Infrastructure Advisory Council has taken steps to protect the Nation's Critical Infrastructure with the Prioritization of Critical Infrastructure for a Pandemic Outbreak in the United States. The Council was asked to address six specific issues key to protecting the nation's economy and social stability in light of the looming pandemic threat. The six key issues are (taken directly from the plan):

  1. Identifying and defining "critical services" that must be maintained in a pandemic;
  2. Establishing criteria and principles for critical service prioritization;
  3. Defining critical services priority (with principles for variation, if needed);
  4. Identifying critical employee group(s) in each priority critical service;
  5. Building a structure for communication and dissemination of resources; and
  6. Identifying principles for effective implementation by DHS and HHS.

The World Health Organization has also developed their own plans (Pandemic influenza preparedness: sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits).

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