Well, it is flu season again in the United States and in Corporate America that means it is Pandemic Flu Preparedness Planning Season again. However, please do not confuse the Seasonal Flu with a Pandemic Flu. This website from Flu.gov includes a terrific table at the bottom of its page, defining the difference between the two.
Over the past few months, Safe Harbor Consulting has been active with a number of clients in updating their Pandemic Plans and conducting Pandemic Response Simulated Exercises. One common opportunity for improvements in these programs is with regards to the inclusion of Threat Level Tables within their Plans.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has created a Pandemic Flu Threat Level Description Table detailing 8 Pandemic Phases. Because the last two phases of this schematic are not numbered, they are often left off of the Tables included in the plans we review. The WHO Threat Levels consist of 6 Pandemic Phases, numbered 1 – 6, and a Post Peak Phase and Post Pandemic Phase, which are not numbered. The chart included on this website, shows the most up-to-date Table. It is recommended that Business Plans written specifically for Pandemic Response, ensure that they include the two Post Peak and Post Pandemic phases in their strategies.
Furthermore, the WHO Program addresses world-wide threats. Many US-based plans we have reviewed uses the WHO’s elevation of a Pandemic Threat Level as a “trigger” to engage in response and/or prevention actions. In reality however, your response would be significantly different if the virus in question had a presence in the United States. For example, raising the Pandemic Threat Level to a phase 3 or 4 with a virus known to be present in the Unites States should cause plans to be engaged, whereas, a Phase 4 or 5 with no evidence of the virus in North America may still have you simply on Alert.
Some mature plans we have reviewed understand this issue and as a result have included a revised Threat Level Table published by the U.S Federal Government. Our warning concerning this situation is that the US policy is to amend the WHO Threat Levels on a case by case basis every time the WHO declares a Pandemic Alert (Phase 4 or higher). The table being used in many plans is based off of the last time the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) published a table, which is now obsolete.
“In the United States, pandemic phases will be defined based on the global phase and determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. During the pandemic phase, additional subdivisions may be defined based on the extent of disease. In actual practice, the distinction between the various phases of pandemic influenza may be blurred or occur in a matter of hours, again underscoring the need for flexibility.”
Therefore, we warn people to not be too confident that those are the same definitions used for the next pandemic to hit the United States.
All in all, most of the plans we review are in pretty good shape, otherwise. And, it is great to see that this issue is not being forgotten about given the media has lost some momentum on this topic and the attention pandemics were getting a few years back is not as prevalent.
Pandemics are a reality that should (must?) be planned for. Many of the issues we plan for are common for any incident that results in a depleted or immobilized workforce.
If you have additional information on Pandemics or wish to correct anything we may have stated in error, we would love your feedback. In the meantime, stay healthy and stay prepared.