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How to get started on your planning to-do list.

Many New Hampshire employers have avian flu pandemic preparedness and/or general emergency preparedness on their to-do list.

The World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, the federal and state Departments of Health and Human Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency and many other government, international, professional and industry organizations are actively promoting the need for businesses to engage in planning for a possible pandemic influenza.

Where to start? Emergency or pandemic preparedness begins with a commitment from the chief executive officer and senior executives to make emergency management and/or pandemic planning a priority and part of the organization's culture.

The authority to develop a plan, with adequate support and resources, also is a critical first step, along with identification of an emergency preparedness/pandemic coordinator or team with defined roles and responsibilities.

For many employers, the benefits of disaster and pandemic flu planning are obvious. Others are reluctant to engage in the process, perhaps believing the emphasis on this kind of planning is reminiscent of Y2K predictions and "hype" When "making the case" for emergency management, FEMA offers the following examples of why this kind of planning makes good business sense:

* Protection of employees, the community and environment

* Compliance with regulatory requirements *

* Enhancement of a company's ability to recover from losses, damages to equipment, products and business interruption

* Reduction in exposure to civil or criminal liability in the event of an incident

* Enhancement of a business's image and credibility with employees, customers, suppliers and the community * Planning may reduce insurance premiums

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and federal HHS have identified business as playing a key role in protecting employee health and safety, as well as limiting the negative impact to the economy and society in the event of pandemic influenza.

Human resource implications

Workplace emergency and/or pandemic flu plans typically consist of three primary categories: impact on business operations; human resource implications; and protection of property and physical resources.

From a human resource perspective, emergency and pandemic flu preparedness will likely include:

* Developing an employee communications strategy. Remind employees of the importance of maintaining up-to-date contact information with the company. Phone lists, calling trees, designating a call-in number' for recording messages for employees and/or an "emergency" Web site are options for ensuring that communication with employees remains open and accurate.

Other recommendations include designating an out-of-town phone number to allow employees to leave an "I'm OK" message in a disaster and providing employees with wallet cards detailing instructions on how to get company information in an emergency situation for easy reference.

* Your company's emergency and/or pandemic flu plan needs to be provided to the workforce in conjunction with appropriate training and education.

* Contingency plan for long-term absences: The CDC is recommending that employers estimate at least a 40 percent absenteeism rate when developing their pandemic flu preparedness plans. Accordingly, consideration will need to be given to how your company will carry out vital tasks during a disaster or pandemic outbreak.

* Consideration should be given to identifying what business activities are essential to maintaining business operations during an emergency/pandemic together with an assessment of a skills inventory of the workforce. Cross-training and skills development may be identified as necessary during this process, resulting in the coordination of follow-up training and development.

* Establish HR policies to be implemented in the event of a disaster/pandemic. For example: policies for handling employees who have been exposed to pandemic flu, are suspected to be ill, or become ill at work; compensation and sick leave unique to a pandemic; establishing return-to-work policies post-infection; flexible worksite and hours policies; travel restriction policies and guidance for employees returning from affected areas.

* Flu education/hygiene practices: Educate employees about the threat of a pandemic flu and stress prevention of influenza spread at the worksite. Ensure that infection control supplies (hand-hygiene products, tissues, etc.) are accessible at all business locations.

* Employees should be encouraged to design a disaster plan for their own families. Information is available at fema.gov, ready.gov and pandemicflu.gov/plan/individual/index.html

Andrea K. Johnstone, a shareholder-director of the Concord-based law firm Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell, is the firm's lead labor and employment law attorney.

URGENT

Taking steps to planning

If your company has not concluded or is not engaged in the process of emergency and pandemic flu preparedness and response planning, now is the time to begin.

Take advantage of national conferences and local seminars on this important topic to jump-start the planning process. Coordinate your efforts with others in your industry and share best practices with other businesses in your community. Collaborate with insurers, human resource and safety organizations, and federal and state public health agencies and emergency responders.

The following (and by no means exhaustive) list of Web sites offer guidance, checklists and valuable "how to" information for employers tackling the emergency and pandemic planning process:

* "Preparing Your Business For the Unthinkable": redcross.org/services/disaster/0,1082,0_606_,00.html

* "Preparing Makes Business Sense": ready.gov/business/overview/index.html

* "Emergency Management Guide For Business and Industry": fema.gov/index.shtm

* "Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist": cdc.gov/business

* "Guidance For Protecting Workers Against Avian Flu": osha.gov/dsg/guidance/avian-flu.html

* "Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist": pandemicflu.gov/plan/businesschecklist.html

* "State of New Hampshire Influenza Pandemic Public Health Preparedness and Response Plan": dhhs.state.nh.us/DHHS/CDCS/Avian+Flu/z1-business.htm

--ANDREA JOHNSTON
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:EMERGENCY preparedness guide
Author:Johnstone, Andrea K.
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Nov 24, 2006
Words:905
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