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
"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  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."
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