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As I write this, chemical companies throughout the Gulf Coast are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Wilma has left more than 3.2 million homes and businesses without power around Florida.
As we gear up for flu season, special attention is being given to avian flu, which began in Asia, spread to Russia and now threatens Eastern Europe. While the spread of the strain H5N1 to poultry in new areas is of concern - as it increases opportunities for further human cases to occur - the World Health Organization reports that evidence indicates that this strain of the virus does not spread easily from birds to infect humans. But if it mutates into a lethal form that can be spread among humans, the impact of a pandemic on the global workforce would be tremendous.
With this in mind, it's a good time to think about emergency preparedness. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) reports that it has identified a vital missing ingredient among small- to medium-sized businesses - having a preparedness strategy in place following a disaster.
The USDHS, in conjunction with the Ad Council and marketing communications agency Slack Barshinger, are spearheading an advertising campaign on the importance of implementing an emergency-preparedness plan.
They say that, in reality, reports state that businesses most fear disasters such as fires and cyber/utility outages. Companies know that they should have an emergency-preparedness plan in place, but many believe that time, workforce and money constraints prohibit launching such a plan.
The Ready Business section of the USDHS website offers companies some tips on how to get started (www.ready.gov). Information on biological, nuclear, chemical and other threats can also be found on the site.
In addition, companies must also include the possibility of an avian flu pandemic in their business continuity planning and crisis-management preparations. The Trust for America's Health offers "It's Not Flu As Usual," a PDF guide for businesses to prepare for a flu pandemic (http://healthyamericans.org/reports/flu/FluBrochure.pdf), including "10 Steps Your Business Can Take." Their website, http://healthyamericans.org, offers a wealth of information on the avian flu, including links to recent articles. I urge all companies to visit these websites and take action now.