Flu season never used to be regarded as a corporate risk issue. In fact, "before last year, 99 percent of companies hadn't thought about it at all," says Michael Cryer, M.D., senior medical director and principal at Hewitt Associates.
No more. Since the potential risk of a virulent avian flu began making headlines several years ago, companies have started to consider what impact a pandemic could have on their workforce and operations.
Companies can now do more than simply dole out flu vaccines. To gauge the broader effects, companies can tap a variety of software products that can model various facets of a pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control, RMS, and IBM all offer such software, sometimes augmented with consulting services. The CDC's FluWorkLoss software is a spreadsheet program that can be downloaded from the agency's Website at no charge and can help an organization estimate workdays lost and related business-continuity impacts resulting from a pandemic. IBM's new Pandemic Business Impact Modeler service incorporates company-specific data into a modeling tool that generates crisis-avoidance plans and helps assess the impact of a pandemic, not only on a company's workforce but on its supply chain and other facets of the business.
Insurer AIG uses RMS's Infectious Disease Modeling software to assess the potential risks from flu outbreaks of varying severity. Derek Blum, vice president of emerging risk models at RMS, notes that over the past several centuries pandemics have hit roughly every 30 to 40 years. The last one, an outbreak of Hong Kong flu that killed more than 500,000 people worldwide, occurred in 1968–1969.