Governments worldwide are preparing for the anticipated spread of AH1N1 influenza (swine flu), but businesses should not overreact to the outbreak; they should take this event as a wake-up call and review and test their pandemic response plans, according to Gartner.

"Business continuity management (BCM) and disaster recovery (DR) professionals and other stakeholders should use the widespread concern over the swine flu as an opportunity to prevent their businesses from becoming victims of uncertainty, panic, misinformation and a lack of preparedness to increase enterprise awareness of the potential business impact of a widespread outbreak of disease," says Richard De Lotto, principal research analyst at Gartner.
"Businesses in all regions and across all industries should complete their review of their BCM/DR pandemic response plans and fill in any missing elements by the end of this week," adds Roberta Witty, research vice-president at Gartner. "Starting today, IT managers should meet with senior executives, line-of-business managers and other high-level decision-makers to answer any questions should be made aware of the seriousness of this pandemic preparation, to that will ensure a broad, ongoing commitment to this effort. IT managers should plan, test, and add capacity to ensure the sustainability of what is likely to be a predominantly work-at-home environment."
Gartner analysts say a true pandemic could cause absenteeism rates of 40% or higher for organisations and their business partners and suppliers, resulting in severe operational disruptions. For this reason, businesses must recognise the urgent need to develop and implement pandemic response planning.
"In today's global business environment, IT professionals must recognise include extremely specific elements within their response plans that will overcome their business¹s operational vulnerabilities which are not confined to the organisation's specific geographic locations," says Ken McGee, vice-president and Gartner fellow.
"These vulnerabilities also exist in the next town, adjacent states, neighbouring countries, or even on the other side of the planet, where their suppliers, customers, external professional service providers and so on are located."
Corporate BCM/DR professionals, security professionals, IT managers, line-of-business managers, and other stakeholders are encouraged to monitor www.pandemicflu.gov as well as other government and public-health sources to determine what actions are appropriate to ensure workforce safety and continued business operations.
Gartner analysts say these key stakeholders should review audit pandemic response plans this week to assure they include:
* Identify existing and projected critical skills shortages;
* Initiate necessary cross-training, testing or certification of personnel;
* Ensure that cross-trained personnel have the appropriate system/applications access rights;
* Determine which business operations are sustainable, and at what level, and the likely downtime for normal business operations during periods with absenteeism rates of 40% or higher;
* Immediately initiate rigorous, ongoing and well-documented testing to isolate and remediate identified problem areas;
* Prepare for travel restrictions to be significant in the event of an epidemic and near-universal in the event of a pandemic; and
* Implement a communications programme that ensures that all personnel are aware of the business¹s pandemic response plans, as well as measures they can take to limit the spread of the disease-including practices as simple yet effective as regular hand-washing.
Gartner has created a Special Coverage section on gartner.com "Planning for a Potential Pandemic" where comprehensive research related to pandemic planning can be found.