IT Caught Off Guard by Flu Pandemic Warning

IT Caught Off Guard by Flu Pandemic Warning
IT Caught Off Guard by Flu Pandemic Warning 

[I may be going out on a limb here, but accepting suggestions on their 
face value about how many gallons of water one should store per employee 
from an IT analyst (with no disaster management experience) making life 
sustaining recommendations, makes as much sense as picking my nephew's 
black Lab mix as lead on your next data-center build.   - WK]

By Patrick Thibodeau
December 04, 2006 

LAS VEGAS -- Gartner Inc. is recommending that businesses complete 
planning by the second quarter of next year for a possible avian 
influenza pandemic and in particular stock up on supplies that would be 
needed by data center workers who might be quarantined together.

Among the suggestions offered last week by Gartner analyst Ken McGee at 
the consulting firms annual data center conference here: Store 42 
gallons of water per data center employee enough for a six-week 
quarantine and dont forget about food, medical care, cooking facilities, 
sanitation and electricity.

In a quarantined environment, you are not going anywhere, McGee said.

McGees presentation caught the attention of John Stingl, chief 
technology officer at Russell Investment Group. During the session, 
Stingl said later, he sent a note on his handheld to his administrative 
assistant asking that a meeting about Russell Investments 
pandemic-specific planning be arranged back at the companys Tacoma, 
Wash., office.

Stingl said the investment firm has a good disaster recovery and 
business continuity plan. But after hearing McGees stark warning, Stingl 
said he wants to know more about the companys plans for a pandemic. It 
was an eye-opener, Stingl said of the presentation.

Brad Kowal, associate director of Shands HealthCares data center, said 
the Gainesville, Fla.-based medical center has had its hands full 
dealing with business continuity planning aimed at protecting against 
hurricanes. And then you throw this in [and are told to] get it done by 
the second quarter. Its literally stun and shock for me, he said.

A Shared Responsibility

McGee said pandemic planning costs should total no more than 5% of an IT 
budget, but he stressed that the burden shouldnt be absorbed by the IT 
budget alone it should be shared throughout a company.

Among the things companies should do, McGee said, is decide whether they 
intend to keep their data centers operating during a pandemic. And then, 
if they do plan to keep IT operations going, they should consider 
preparing for up to a 12-week quarantine.

Gartner recommends that companies conduct educational sessions with 
employees so they know how to prepare their own households for a 
pandemic. In the office, one person should be made responsible for 
planning, and business continuity plans will have to be adapted for a 
pandemic, McGee said. He added that IT should oversee installation of 
broadband services to the homes of its most critical employees but also 
assume that there may be failures in public networks.

One person in attendance, who said he works at a Fortune 100 insurance 
company but requested anonymity, said his company has taken pandemic 
planning seriously.

We have almost 30,000 employees, and fully a third of them in the next 
six months will be able to work remotely, he said.

In addition to ensuring that their own operations would be able to 
continue during a pandemic, IT managers should also review the 
contingency plans of their vendors, McGee said.

He added that vendor contracts should include service guarantees and 
extraordinarily harsh terms if that vendor does not come through in the 
event of a pandemic.

McGee didnt tell attendees that a pandemic is in the offing. But 
pandemics have been regular occurrences in human history. And although 
it is unknown whether avian influenza will explode into a global 
pandemic, the number of deaths related to it are creeping up and more 
appear possible as the disease spreads. Since 2003, 153 of the 258 
people diagnosed with avian flu have died.

The point is [that] the degree of transmission seems to be increasing 
from human to human, McGee said.

Toward the end of McGees presentation, an electronic survey asked 
attendees whether they believe a bird flu pandemic will take place 
within three years. Fifty-eight percent said yes, 25% said no, and 17% 
said they werent sure.

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