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Swine flu -- not hurricanes -- leads disaster recovery agenda

Hurricane Bill is barreling over the Atlantic threatening to flood data centers and new, potentially destructive computer viruses are always popping up, but, surprisingly, a real virus — swine flu — is taking shape as the biggest storm cloud on the horizon for disaster recovery specialists. In conversations with the major disaster recovery providers this week concern about the H1N1 influenza virus was running high. The big question is whether companies were sufficiently prepared for an outbreak among employees. For many companies, particularly smaller workplaces, even issues such as whether the company has the right to send a sick worker home can be confusing.

“The larger enterprise companies are beginning to take the H1N1 pandemic seriously and beginning to think about what they are going to do if 40% of their workforce gets sick this winter,” said Bob Boyd, CEO of Agility Recovery Solutions Inc., the Charlotte, N.C.-based provider that brings its ReadySuite trailers on-site in the event of a disaster or for testing purposes. “We are seeing a fairly significant increase in interest from those larger companies to have technology on schedule with us, so that if they sent 100 people home, we could ship them laptops, so they could work from home.”

Indeed, of the 41 recoveries Agility has done this year, seven have been for customer responses to the pandemic. One was in Montreal and the rest were in the U.S.

“In the seven cases we’ve done so far, their pandemic plans said that if an employee is diagnosed with H1N1 virus, the company takes the 100 people that employee is closest to, whether in the adjacent cubicles or by contact in meetings, and all those people go home for up to two weeks, because the incubation is thought to be about 10 days,” he said.

Companies like Agility can supply laptops loaded with the technology employees need to do their jobs along with any equipment, like headsets.

Agility is planning a series of webinars in September with avian flu expert John Lange to help its smaller member companies get ready for the expected upswing in swine flu cases this year. The emphasis will be on what companies can begin to do to protect their employees from the swine flu virus and how to handle cases, as they come up. Large companies with effective HR departments are typically well-prepared to deal with medical issues.

“You get to a small medium-sized company, that guy doesn’t even know if he has the legal right to send that worker home. They need help on how do they talk about H1N1 with their staff and encourage good practices,” Boyd said. He said Agility is spending a lot of time talking to customers about cross-training employees, so that more than one person knows how to perform a critical business function. “If they are right, a lot of people are going to be out sick.”

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