Swine flu cheatsheet kickstarts pandemic planning

40-point checklist assists IT managers prepare for the worst

As the numbers affected by swine flu in New Zealand increase dramatically, IT managers are readying their IT shops and services for disruption.

The Department of Labour last week encouraged employers and employees to talk to each other about what will happen if their workplace is shut or if workers are forced to stay at home as a result of the pandemic.

Acting workplace deputy secretary Maarten Quivooy said in a warning note that the chance of the flu causing major shutdowns is lessening.

“However, there is still the potential for significant numbers of workers falling ill at one time and it is a timely reminder that employers and employees need to be talking about what will happen when the situation occurs,” he said.

At the end of last week, there were just over 500 confirmed cases of H1N1 infection in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Health.

Quivooy said by planning ahead, options such as working from home can be put in place. The Department has also released information on its website to assist businesses.

However, IT shops face a range of different issues and, as a unit that supports the entire business, an added responsibility.

Christchurch-based IT consultancy Effectus has come to their aid with a 40-point checklist (pdf), covering areas such as HR, service delivery, supplier management and communications.

“If New Zealand follows the same pattern as other countries, including Australia, the number of employees away from work with flu symptoms or supporting sick relatives will rise significantly over the next few months,” Effectus warns in its “IT Manager’s Pandemic Planning Checklist”.

“The strong message from the Ministry of Health is that any indications of flu, employees should quarantine themselves at home, preferably, for seven days. This, on top of seasonal illness and employees staying at home to support sick relatives or at home due to schools being closed, has the potential for a high number of employees being at home and requiring access to IT services or unavailable to an organisation.”

Effectus says now is the time to ensure that contingency plans are in place to deal with key staff, customers and the staff of key suppliers being absent from work.

“What needs to be done to make sure that IT services and systems remain available to support your organisation?” the checklist asks. “In addition your users may have specific requirements to provide additional services to support remote working.”

Colin Andersen, director of Effectus, says the checklist was produced because a number of his customers were expressing concern about the issue. He says IT directors have to not only ensure the ongoing operation of their internal services but also to seek assurances from vendor partners about their ability to deliver.

He says even in good business continuity plans there is often an assumption that people will be available, but in a pandemic that may not be the case. Some organisations that have contractual responsibilities to deliver services could be at legal risk if they are unable to do so and should be undertaking risk management, he says.

One simple first step for all organisations is to gather everyone’s contact details, he recommends.

Andersen says the checklist has been well received as a kick-start for businesses to address their own particular situations.

The Department of Labour, meanwhile, strongly recommends that employers and employees agree on an appropriate approach. Any agreement should be provided for in employment agreements, it says.

“It is not just a pandemic that employers and employees should think about but any situation which may close the business or force employees to stay at home, such as a civil defence emergency or poor weather conditions like the ice and snow recently experienced in the lower South Island,” says Quivooy.

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