Businesses must develop continuity planning now in case of a flu outbreak, Scott Mugno, managing director, corporate safety, health and fire protection at FedEx Express, recently told attendees during the American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) "Pandemic Influenza: Threat vs. Preparedness" webinar.

Mugno, who led the interactive webinar and provided tips on how to prepare, said pandemics are inevitable as they occur regularly throughout history. Some examples include the 1918 Spanish flu, responsible for 40 to 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 deaths in the U.S.; the 1957 Asian flu that caused one to four million deaths, 70,000 in the U.S.; and the 1968 Hong Kong flu also responsible for one to four million deaths, 34,000 within the U.S.

Due to this and the increasing cases of avian bird flu developing, it is necessary, said Mugno, for businesses to have a continuity plan in place before the next major pandemic flu outbreak.

The term flu pandemic refers to a new influenza virus that people have little to no immunity to and there is no available vaccine, making a pandemic a global disease outbreak, noted Mugno. Currently, there is worldwide concern about the possible spread of the Avian H5N1 (A H5N1) virus. The influenza A H5N1 virus raised concerns about a potential human pandemic because it is particularly potent; it is spread by migratory birds; can be transmitted from birds to mammals and in some circumstances to humans; it continues to change; and, has a high death rate percentage in known human cases.

As of December 13, 2007, there are 339 known confirmed human cases of A H5N1 and 208 confirmed deaths, a fatality rate of 61 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"However," Mugno said, “the A H5N1 may not be the pandemic flu. The key is for businesses and the public to stay informed and updated. Businesses need to teach awareness and take precautions now.”

The following are planning tips Mugno suggests on how businesses can prepare for a pandemic flu:

  • Establish trigger points to and checklists as waves of pandemic phases occur
  • Review business demand shifts
  • Prepare media point person for the pandemic
  • Conduct company wide analysis of essential/nonessential functions
  • Develop emergency corporate chain of command
  • Develop essential contacts/relationships with governmental agencies
  • Consider increasing security for warehouses and vehicles
  • Develop procedures
  • Develop plans to minimize the high potential for a fuel shortage
  • Develop policies to address drivers/operators shortage
  • Investigate the potential to secure housing for critical employees
  • Develop cooperative arrangements with suppliers
In addition, employers who are considering stockpiling antiviral drugs should plan for collaboration with state and local public health departments, comply with state and federal prescribing and dispensing laws and regulations, consider ethical and equity concerns as well as cost and logistical concerns, develop stockpiling and dispensing models and educate their employees.