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Pandemic-Proofing Your Business

David Filson (photo by Howard Nuernberger)What if you went into work one day and one-quarter of your co-workers were out with H1N1 influenza or some other pandemic disease? Dave Filson, state program leader for emergency readiness, rural health, and safety, asks businesspeople to imagine just that when he talks about planning ahead to survive a pandemic.

How would the company stay afloat? Many don’t. About one quarter of businesses never recover following a natural disaster, according to the Institute of Business and Safety. “One thing is certain,” says Filson. “A pandemic shakes up business as usual.”

Penn State Cooperative Extension co-developed a free, twohour course, Pandemic Preparedness for Business, available online from the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) to help extension educators nationwide advise businesses on how to prepare for a pandemic. The online course also serves as a starting point for businesses, offering sample business continuity plans. Ideally, says EDEN chair Filson, companies or business groups can tap an extension educator to teach a group session or Webinar. “We find that group interaction is helpful. You’ll have people from different businesses share ideas. And that enhances the learning,” says Filson.

Extension educators can help with key parts of the plan, like figuring out which tasks are essential and which can slide for a while in a crisis. Other tips: review insurance coverage with a pandemic in mind, make sure employees are cross-trained so that at least one other person can handle tasks and decisions, and consider telecommuting so employees can stay home with sick children.

To develop the course, Penn State Cooperative Extension worked with extension educators around the country and the Department of Homeland Security.