Swine flu: time to review business continuity plans

Businesses were urged to review their business continuity plans amid warnings that a swine flu could lead to absenteeism...

Businesses were urged to review their business continuity plans amid warnings that a swine flu could lead to absenteeism rates of up to 40% if a pandemic takes hold.

The warning follows growing concern over the H1N1 virus, which has led to between 20 and 80 deaths in Mexico, with further cases reported in US Spain and New Zealand.

Analyst firm Gartner advised businesses to place IT at the forefront of their business continuity plans as the virus spreads.

"It is important to have pandemic contingency plans that define what you would do if the workforce absenteeism rates exceeded 40% or you had to close your offices. As you develop and refresh those plans don't forget that mobile and wireless technology has a part to play," said analyst Nick Jones.

Gartner advises businesses to use wireless broadband to allow employees to work remotely. Organisations should consider buying mobile broadband adaptors with built-in wireless capability.

"It is also probably a good idea to spread your purchases across several networks, because if there is a pandemic or epidemic, some may become overloaded," said Jones.

Businesses should consider using mobile devices in new ways, said Gartner. For example, they could send a copy of their disaster recovery plan to every employee's smartphone. And they could use video phone calls as a low-cost alternative to video conferencing.

"You may need to enable teleworking for a lot more staff very quickly. Do you have plans and infrastructure that can cope?" asked Jones.

Gartner advises firms to identify key skills and begin cross training staff to ensure they can cover critical business operations. Firms should make sure that retrained staff are given access rights to relevant IT applications, as provisioning often causes delays and disruption.

Business should assess which parts of their operations will be sustainable with high absenteeism rates. They should begin testing their business continuity plans immediately to identify and take remedial action in problem areas.

• Two people in Lankarkshire have been admitted to hospital after possible infection with swine flu. More than 20 people who have come into contact with two patients have been given drugs and are being monitored closely.

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