CDC's flu severity index has advice for IT

Telecommuting and videoconferencing recommended in case of flu outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created something akin to a Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale for calculating a pandemic's severity that includes some recommendations with implications for IT. Among them is a recommendation that companies consider telecommuting if the death toll in the U.S. from a flu epidemic rises to 90,000 people.

The CDC's Pandemic Severity Index, included in the Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States, measures the severity of a pandemic by the number of fatalities it causes. The scale has five gradations of severity.

At the top of the scale is category 5, which is a pandemic resulting in more than 1.8 million deaths; category 4 involves between 900,000 and 1.8 million deaths; category 3, 450,000 to 900,000 deaths; category 2, 90,000 to 450,000 deaths; and category one, less than 90,000 deaths.

Telecommuting isn't the only IT-related topic discussed by the CDC in its report. It is also recommending that companies try videoconferencing to limit face-to-face contact if the pandemic is severe. Staggered shifts to spread out workers over the week is also recommended.

Scott McPherson, CIO of the Florida House of Representatives and head of the state's CIO pandemic preparedness committee, said IT managers will have to consider other steps as well in pandemic planning. Internet glitches may curtail telecommuting options, and because of that, IT managers need to make sure that a company has developed business processes that can work around IT-related problems, said McPherson.

One option could involve a change in work shifts, said McPherson. Instead of having employees come into the office at the same time during a regular work day, jobs would be spread out over multiple shifts and days to keep people out of contact with one another, he said.

IT managers will also have to reach out to telecommunications providers to ensure they are ready to meet corporate needs, said McPherson. They "will want some assurances from telecommunications companies that they are doing everything in their power to maintain telecommunications in a pandemic," he said.

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