Pitney Bowes: Using fresh memories, history to get the preparedness message across

(CIDRAP Source Weekly Briefing) – Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Sep 11 attacks, and Hurricane Katrina have given many senior executives a small taste of the economic devastation that unforeseen localized events can wreak on a company.

Likewise, the 2001 anthrax attacks, in which letters containing anthrax bacteria were anonymously sent to news media offices and two US senators, had primed the pump for Brent Pawlecki, MD, to paint a picture of the global devastation that could result from an influenza pandemic. Pawlecki is associate medical director of the mailstream solutions and services company Pitney Bowes.

Pawlecki, who leads pandemic preparedness initiatives for the Stamford, CT–based company, approached members of the senior leadership team 1.5 years ago, handing them each a copy of John Barry's book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. The book gives a graphic overview of the global devastation of a pandemic.

He scheduled an hour with each of them. "The first thing I did was to sit down and describe life in a pandemic," he says. "What it really took was an understanding of the risks that were involved from the business perspective. It's really important to think of this as a crisis of its own, but it does fall under the heading of business continuity."

Pawlecki had a plan and was able to overcome concerns about funding by keeping the plan pervasive but low-tech and by leveraging existing resources. "When you face the CFO, the first thing they're going to say is 'there's no money for this,'" he says. "[But] you don't have to spend a lot of money."

He assembled 20 representatives from across the company for his team—including in-house business continuity experts from Pitney Bowes Management Services—which came up with a plan based on the World Health Organization's pandemic phases. Examples of measures the team set up include:

  • A 20-minute online training module for the firm's 34,000 employees in 130 countries describing life in a pandemic, what Pitney Bowes was doing to prepare for it, and how they could prepare themselves and their families
  • Hygiene measures such as handwashing and social distancing
  • Instructions directing employees to online individual planning guides

"It's a lot of work on the front end," says Pawlecki, who hardly slept during the first 4 months of planning. "But I think people need to realize the risk of not doing this."

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