Page 3 of 3   <      

Business Plan for a Pandemic?

A woman wears a mask on the Beijing subway three years ago when China was battling an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. The global response to SARS, which was thwarted from reaching pandemic status, may provide lessons for companies preparing for a flu pandemic.
A woman wears a mask on the Beijing subway three years ago when China was battling an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. The global response to SARS, which was thwarted from reaching pandemic status, may provide lessons for companies preparing for a flu pandemic. (Associated Press)

"About two dozen have placed orders ranging from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of treatment courses," said Terence J. Hurley, a Roche spokesman.

Some companies hold dry runs.

The international research and engineering firm SAIC Inc., which has 16,000 employees in the Washington area, periodically "surges the system" to simulate pandemic conditions, said Bowman Olds, the company's emergency operations center manager.

On a Saturday two months ago, SAIC tested its telecommuting capability with a unit that operates in Northern Virginia, Hawaii and several foreign countries to see whether everyone could work outside the office with all necessary functions, programs and communications. Several software problems arose.

"Now we have to go through those and find out how to make them work," Olds said.

Eric Grant, a spokesman for The Washington Post, said the company "is prepared to continue production of the newspaper under various emergency conditions" and "is reviewing its plans regarding how they would apply in the event of a flu outbreak."

The companies that feel most vulnerable are those with large "footprints" in Asia, and they are the most likely to have started planning for a pandemic.

Shure Inc., a privately held firm with factories in Illinois and Mexico that make microphones, earphones and other audio equipment, opened a plant with 150 workers outside Shanghai last July. In September, it began planning for a pandemic.

Its plant managers are learning about flu and how to limit its spread. Each factory now has a five-week supply of protective gloves and masks. Company executives are identifying the product mix they feel must be kept on the market at all cost. The Chinese division has formed a relationship with two private hospitals.

"We are pretty much guaranteed access for our people even if it is a very, very serious situation," said Richard S. Burgess, Shure's vice president for human resources.

Corning Inc. is also deep into flu planning.

The venerable glassmaker from upstate New York makes its money primarily from display technology -- basically glass screens -- made in Asia. Its response to SARS was "organized confusion," recalled James Schuppert, a physician and the company's medical director. "We responded the best way we could. But it was not around a strategy that we could refer to and that already had buy-in from senior management."

Corning's pandemic plan is now long and detailed. It requires plant managers to meet face to face at least once a year with a local public health official. This is especially important in Asia, Schuppert believes, and the company recently audited work sites to make sure it was being done.

"Taking the health officer out to lunch -- that wasn't a practice we used to engage in," he said with a laugh.

Staff writer Susan Levine contributed to this report.


<          3

© 2006 The Washington Post Company