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Experts warn of bird flu IT crisis

The discovery of avian flu in the UK has added new urgency to the need for IT departments to review continuity plans and remote working arrangements in preparation for a possible pandemic.

Experts warned this week that the emergence of a human strain of the virus which could infect a quarter of the workforce was likely.

Martin Byrne, European lead on business continuity planning at IT services firm Accenture, said it was time to ask businesses whether they have factored the possibility of an avian flu pandemic into their continuity plans.

Consultant Stephen Castell said, "Without reliable and constant functioning computer and communications systems, businesses will quickly cease to operate. What if, among the 40% staff absent, there are key IT systems development, operational and maintenance staff?"

Mike Osborne, managing director for business continuity at IT assurance specialist ICM, said firms would need to make their own preparations for an outbreak and could not rely on third-party business continuity providers.

"Loss of staff due to avian flu is not a reason to call on third-party business continuity providers under the standard terms of such support contracts, " he said.

Conor Ward, partner at Lovells solicitors, said businesses have a duty to provide a safe working environment for staff. This means they would need to follow any guidelines issued by the government or the World Health Organisation in the event of a pandemic.

"When it comes it IT, you will obviously try to get your staff to work remotely," he said.


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