Pandemic planning becoming a priority

With H1N1 influenza evolving from threat to reality, local business operators have a chance to learn what they should do in response.

With H1N1 influenza evolving from threat to reality, local business operators have a chance to learn what they should do in response.

The International Centre for Infectious Diseases has teamed up with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to provide information about pandemic planning. This includes a series of seminars, with one scheduled for Red Deer on Dec. 17.

Health officials have long preached the importance of preparing for a widespread illness, but many business operators — especially those in small or medium-sized entities with broad responsibilities — have put the issue on a back burner, said Wendy Schettler, director of public health programs with the ICID.

“If they don’t actually see it as imminent, or a crisis that’s happening right away, there are a lot of other things that take precedent.”

With some operations now suffering from high absenteeism and other flu-related disruptions, pandemic planning is moving up many priority lists, said Schettler. In other cases, the opposite is occurring.

“They feel like the worst is over; they figure they’ve worked through whatever impact that they’ve already had, so why bother?”

The problem with this attitude, said Schettler, is nobody really knows if the worst is behind or ahead of us.

“We know that H1N1 is likely going to be around for a couple of years.”

Plus, she added, other health crises could hit — and a formalized plan could prove helpful in those instances as well.

“Once you’ve planned, you have your plan,” she said, comparing such preparations to being insured.

The seminars are geared toward small and medium-sized businesses, since larger organizations often have the resources to tackle this issue, said Schettler. The information is simple and easy to implement.

“What we’ve really attempted to do is to make it as quick and easy as possible.”

Businesses are being urged to consider the likely impact of a pandemic on their operations, said Schettler. For instance, cleaning service might see a spike in demand, a restaurant a decline.

Thought should also be given to the consequences of having reduced staff, she added, and contingencies made.

“In a small business where you often have one or two people doing key functions; have they cross-trained people?

“These are kind of key components that you should be thinking about regardless. You want to plan for a range of impacts.”

The seminars are being conducted by ICID staff, with the Chamber focusing on promotion. Funding has come from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Schettler said on Friday that about 20 presentations have been conducted to date, with more to occur between now and the new year.

“We’re looking at doing presentations for not-for-profit organizations as well, who have the same issues.”

An information website has been set up at, and for those unable to attend the live seminars, related webinars can be accessed through the website.

In Red Deer, the pandemic business planning seminar will run from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce office. To register, email or call 403-347-4491.

Based in Winnipeg, the International Centre for Infectious Diseases is a non-profit organization with a mandate to fight infectious diseases worldwide.

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