Small businesses lag in pandemic preparations

Small businesses and privately held companies represent the majority of businesses without a pandemic plan, according to a report by The Conference Board.

The organization surveyed businesses of all sizes around the world. Of the 553 responses, 65 percent of the businesses earning less than $100 million did not have any specific plans to address the impact to operations of an influenza pandemic.

By contrast, 95 percent of companies with more than $5 billion in sales have pandemic plans or are drafting them.

“The variability of business responsiveness to planning alone, with large companies more willing and able to do so than smaller companies, underscores vulnerability in the current state of pandemic readiness planning,” said David J. Vidal, research director for The Conference Board. “Given that successful pandemic containment would require extraordinary levels of business, social, governmental and individual awareness, knowledge and cooperation, these gaps provide reason for pause.”

Almost 30 percent of those surveyed said they were not aware if their organizations’ boards of directors have had any discussion about pandemic planning.

Of those respondents that said they did not have plans, half said they didn’t see pandemic planning as a priority and another 20 percent said they felt their existing business continuity plans were sufficient.

Another issue revealed by the survey: 94 percent had no discussions at all with government officials at any level about coordination of efforts and resources.

There also was a gap in preparations among industries designated as critical by their governments, such as health care and utilities, and non-critical industries. Thirty percent of surveyed companies in health care and computer/technology manufacturing had a completed plan.

A high percentage of chemical manufacturing industries also reported having pandemic plans.

Companies placed the welfare of employees at the top of the list of business concerns, followed by operational continuity and telecommuting capabilities.

“While telecommuting may alleviate some business disruption, the downstream effects stemming from supply chain disruption will likely remain significant,” said Amy Kao, co-author of the report with Vidal. “In fact, about half of survey participants predict that impact from delivery and supply chain disruptions will be very serious or extremely serious.”

Two-thirds of those companies that responded to the survey expect to cross-train employees to handle continuing operations if much of the workforce is out sick or caring for loved ones, but the same percentage have yet to decide if those covering for absent co-workers will be given extra compensation.

In novel approaches to mitigate business interruptions, 34 percent of responders said they would pool resources with other organizations and 25 percent said they would ask retired workers to temporarily return to critical positions.

To view a copy of the report, visit — CINDY KIBBE

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