Lesson 2: Employees paid close attention to how their
companies handled the situation and turned to their
employers for guidance.
According to the TFAH report, providing clear, straightforward
information to the public was essential for allaying fears and building trust. The same holds true for companies and their employees.
Businesses must determine when and how they will communicate with their employees and who will be doing the communicating. Will your company use text messages, voice mails, emails,
Intranet updates, or a combination of these methods to keep your
employees informed of key H1N1 developments?
It’s important to strive for accuracy in your communications
but to also acknowledge the evolving nature of the situation. For
example, according to Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, the deputy commissioner for the Division of Disease Control at the New York City
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, because of the ever-changing H1N1 situation, it is helpful to explain to employees
that decision-making may precede full fact-finding and that decisions may change over time as new information becomes available. Another helpful tip that Dr. Weisfuse offered is to educate
employees about both seasonal and pandemic flu as soon as possible. It’s important for employees to know how the flu spreads,
how to practice good hygiene, and to understand when and how
social distancing (remaining six feet apart from other employees)
may be implemented in the workplace. Indeed, one recommendation should be to tell employees to stay informed of the situation,
and companies should help their employees do that.
Lesson 3: Companies that took measures to ensure
their employees remained healthy at work are
currently reaping the benefits of enhanced loyalty and
productivity among employees.
If you haven’t done so already, formulate a plan to determine
how your company will protect employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and respirators, and with
pharmaceutical interventions such as prescription antiviral medications. If you already have a plan like this in place, take the time
now to follow up with suppliers, distributors, storage facilities
and medical providers to be sure there won’t be any hiccups in
the process if you need to activate this part of your pandemic plan
in the coming months.
PPE is recommended for staff members who cannot be separated by a minimum of six feet within the workplace. It’s not
enough to simply have the equipment. Be sure to identify when
the PPE will be distributed, who will provide training on the
equipment and how you will ensure the PPE supplies stay secure
throughout the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) have interim guidance on the use of facemasks
and respirators on their Web sites. It’s a good idea to visit these
sites regularly to stay on top of any updates.
The WHO and CDC report that antiviral medications Tamiflu
and Relenza are effective against the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain,
and the antivirals are being used to treat and prevent cases and to
quell outbreaks. These medicines will remain the primary defense
against the evolving pandemic until vaccines can be made widely
available to the general public. In addition to reducing the sever-
14 DISASTER RECOVERY JOURNAL FALL 2009
ity and length of the flu, antivirals can be used preventatively to
keep people from getting sick. Including antivirals as part of your
pandemic plan can help staff remain healthy and feel safe coming
to the workplace. Having an antiviral program can also boost
employees’ and customers’ confidence in your business.
If your company chooses to offer antivirals to employees,
a number of subsequent decisions need to be made. You must
decide if you will also provide antivirals to employees’ families
and determine when and how the medications will be ordered,
stored, safeguarded and distributed. And again, remember to
include an education component in your plan -- it’s essential that
employees understand why, how and when antiviral medications
will be used.
The companies that manufacture Tamiflu (Roche) and Relenza
(GlaxoSmithKline) have special reservation programs available
for companies looking to secure antivirals for their employees.
The antiviral courses can be reserved for a nominal annual fee,
and the manufacturer will handle the maintenance and storage of
your antiviral stockpile. The customer can purchase their stockpile in full at any time. Visit www.pandemictoolkit.com for more
Lesson 4: Companies often need medical consultation
on how to handle different situations as they arise,
but local Departments of Public Health (DPH) are
likely to be overwhelmed and unable to provide that
information in a timely manner.
In the spring, many local DPH were completely inundated with
phone calls and requests. This situation will likely worsen during
the fall/winter flu season. While having a relationship with your
local health department and following their updates is important,
I strongly recommend that companies identify a medical provider
whom you can call for direction on how to handle a variety of
issues at the workplace. Someone with an infectious disease or
occupational health background would be ideal. When you are
faced with a tough medical decision, you’ll be thankful you took
the time to form a relationship with a medical expert who can
provide sound guidance.
Fortunately, the H1N1 pandemic has been moderate in severity
so far, with most healthy people recovering on their own. But we
may not be so lucky this fall and winter. Whether or not the H1N1
virus gets stronger or becomes more virulent, the fact remains that
humans have little to no immunity against it, and millions continue to be at risk for illness, hospitalization and death. Now that
we’re in the middle of a pandemic, planning takes on a whole new
sense of urgency. Applying key learnings to your planning now
is critical. How a company fares in the aftermath of this pandemic
will certainly be an indicator of how well the company prepared.
Regina Phelps, RN, CEM, BSN, MPA, is an internationally recognized
expert in the field of emergency management and contingency planning.
She is the founder of Emergency Management & Safety Solutions (www.
ems-solutionsinc.com). With more than 27 years of experience, she has
provided consultation and speaking services to clients in four continents.
She has written hundreds of pandemic plans, conducted more than 250 pandemic exercises, and maintains a daily pandemic blog at http://emssolutionsinc.wordpress.com.