[ISN] Pandemic planning not a priority in U.S., despite bird-flu threat

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Tue Jul 03 2007 - 22:33:46 PDT


By Patrick Thibodeau
July 03, 2007 

Last November, Gartner Inc. analyst Ken McGee gave a presentation on the 
risk of an avian flu pandemic to an audience of IT professionals at a 
conference in Las Vegas. He concluded with this recommendation: Complete 
your pandemic planning by Q2 of 2007.

This year's second quarter ended on Saturday. But despite his 
admonition, McGee believes that few IT organizations are ready for a 
possible pandemic.

"Most clients would not be prepared if this descended upon the world 
tomorrow -- they just simply would not be ready," he said. "I think it's 
just part of the human condition: You don't put the stop sign up until 
after the traffic accident."

McGee is as concerned as ever about the threat of a pandemic, but he's 
worried that fears are waning in the U.S. And, he said, he's afraid 
"that people will learn the hard way that they cannot respond to a 
pandemic situation once it has been declared, because everyone will be 
trying to do that and nothing will get done."

The declining level of concern cited by McGee was backed up by poll 
results [1] released Monday by Ipsos Public Affairs, a research 
organization that has offices in New York, Washington and other U.S. 

Ipsos conducted an online survey of 1,438 U.S. residents who are over 
the age of 18. When asked about the issue of avian flu in the U.S., 27% 
of the respondents said they were "concerned" -- down from 35% in a 
similar survey last year. Forty-one percent said they were "not 
concerned," compared with 31% a year ago.

The Ipsos poll received almost no news coverage, according to a Google 
News search. Indeed, one of the poll questions asked, "How much have you 
read, heard or seen about bird flu?" In 2006, 74% of the people who were 
surveyed answered "a lot/some." This year, the percentage of respondents 
who chose that answer fell to 56%.

Scott McPherson, CIO of the Florida House of Representatives and head of 
the Florida CIO Pandemic Preparedness Committee, tracks news about the 
avian flu on a daily basis. He can quickly cite the most recent 
mortality rates or list recent incidents, such as the death of five 
swans and a goose in Germany due to the H5N1 bird-flu virus. McPherson 
said he's mystified by the lack of attention that the threat is getting 
in the U.S.

He contrasted that with the level of interest that the avian flu gets in 
countries such as Indonesia. "If you live in Jakarta, this is all you 
think about it," McPherson said. "If you live in the United States, all 
you think about is Paris Hilton. What the heck has happened to us?"

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been keeping statistics on 
confirmed human cases of the H5N1 virus since 2003. The WHO reported a 
total of 317 cases and 191 deaths worldwide as of last Friday. It said 
that in 2006, 79 people died from avian flu. Thus far this year, there 
have been 33 deaths, according to the WHO.

McPherson thinks that IT organizations not only need to plan for a 
potential pandemic but, more important, must have a planning process 
that can continuously adapt to changing conditions -- thereby remaining 

For instance, McPherson said telecommuting programs will ultimately 
become unworkable if a pandemic occurs because of network-overload 
problems and a lack of access to broadband connections for many 

And at government agencies and other organizations where workers need 
access to paper forms, paper that is potentially laden with the virus 
will have to be quarantined for up to 24 hours, McPherson said. No one 
will be able to count on timely deliveries of such forms to workers at 
their homes, he added.

IT managers "need to prepare for what happens after the work-at-home 
plans implode," McPherson said. "And that is an army of people coming 
back into office buildings in close physical proximity to one another in 
order to keep the economy going."

[1] http://www.ipsos-na.com/news/pressrelease.cfm?id=3553

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