Feb 15, 2006 (CIDRAP News) A large majority of about 300 business officials at a conference in Minneapolis believe that an influenza pandemic would significantly affect their business, but only 18% of the companies have completed a preparedness plan, according to a poll taken yesterday.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the electronic poll said their companies had started working on pandemic preparedness but did not yet have a plan in place. Another 21% said they hadn't started planning, and 2% said they would rely on their existing crisis management plan.
The poll was taken during a national meeting sponsored by the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, publisher of the CIDRAP web site, and the US and Minnesota Chambers of Commerce. Respondents had 10 seconds to answer each question, and the results were tabulated and reported immediately.
The meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center drew representatives of more than 200 companies with a total of more than 7.5 million employees and $2.6 trillion in annual revenue. The healthcare sector was the most heavily represented, supplying 22% of the attendees, according to the poll. The retail and wholesale trade, manufacturing, professional services, and financial and insurance sectors each accounted for about 15%.
The survey was taken in the afternoon, after the attendees had listened to several presentations about the pandemic threat posed by the H5N1 avian flu virus and the potential effects of a pandemic on business.
Not surprisingly, the results showed that the companies take the threat of a pandemic seriously. Thirteen percent of the attendees expressed the view that a pandemic is imminent. Another 44% expect one within 2 years, and 38% expect one within 10 years.
Twenty-three percent said their company perceived the likely impact of a pandemic on its operations as a "crisis," 40% viewed the impact as serious, and 25% called it important.
Eighty-four percent of the respondents said they "definitely" believed that a pandemic would disrupt their supply chains, and 14% called this outcome probable. Forty-five percent were convinced that national borders would be closed during a pandemic; another 30% thought this was somewhat likely.
More than three fourths76%of the officials were sure that social unrest would be an "important feature" of a pandemic.
The group evidenced an ambivalent view of the role of government in coping with a flu crisis. A 53% majority said the federal government is definitely not doing enough to prepare the private sector for the threat, while only 3% said the government is doing enough.
At the same time, a 73% majority thought government interventions would have a major impact on their business during a pandemic, and nearly as many68%thought that impact would be unfavorable. And an overwhelming 92% agreed that developing relationships now with local governments would help them respond to a pandemic.
Three fourths of the companies agreed that information-technology preparedness, especially having secure remote access to their computer systems, would be a "key issue" for them. Close to two thirds said they were already prepared or somewhat prepared to move employees to remote locations or let them work at home, while 29% said they were not prepared.
The poll also suggested the importance of telecommuting: an 85% majority agreed strongly or somewhat that employees would be reluctant to come to work in a pandemic.
Communication was listed as the most important planning area by 52% of the respondents. Smaller groups chose supply chains (28%) and information systems (16%) as most important.