Avian Flu: Can IT Handle a Pandemic?

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2006-05-04 Email Print this article Print

Studies find most companies have yet to prepare for the work force impact of an avian flu outbreak.

VeriCenter Chief Technology Officer Dave Colesante is a rare bird.

Unlike many IT executives, Colesante has actually thought about a potential avian influenza virus, or bird flu, pandemic and reckons his company, which provides technology services, is relatively prepared if the virus becomes transmitted through human contact.

After all, Colensante's 225-person support staff is used to managing VeriCenter's seven data centers from home.

And that's a good thing if a bird flu pandemic hits, because the federal government would encourage "social distancing" to prevent further illness. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, a severe bird flu pandemic would make 30 percent of the population, or 90 million people, ill and result in 2 million deaths. Companies would have absentee rates of about 40 percent. "You would have to set up to remotely manage IT," said Colesante in Houston. "You'd have to leverage connectivity."

The big question: How many companies are prepared for a bird flu pandemic? An AMR Research study released May 2 found that 68 percent of companies with more than $1 billion in revenue aren't ready for a pandemic. An earlier study by Deloitte & Touche concluded that two-thirds of companies aren't prepared for a pandemic.

The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks it has found a way to prevent a bird flu pandemic. Click here to read more.

Among the issues: How do you manage a work force at home? What workers would be on site in data centers to swap servers and manage power? Can companies rely on Internet access in employees' homes?

Those questions are likely to pick up for technology workers and others involved with business continuity. Through April 27, the World Health Organization tracked 205 cases of bird flu that led to 113 deaths. On April 28, a mild form of bird flu was found at a live-bird market in New Jersey. Meanwhile, public awareness—not to mention your boss'—could be stoked by "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America," an ABC movie airing May 9.

"This is just now becoming a hot button issue," said Henry Fieglein, chief innovation officer of thin-client company Wyse Technology, in Austin, Texas. Fieglein, who was the global director of infrastructure and security architecture at Deutsche Bank, led a task force to prepare the bank for a pandemic. According to Fieglein, the bank is exploring thin-client technology that would extend into workers' homes to securely re-create on-site technology such as telephony and trading applications. Deutsche Bank said in a statement that its business continuity plan can "cover a wide range of contingencies, including pandemics," but officials declined further comment.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Avian Flu: Can IT Handle a Pandemic?

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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