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Business Performance during a Disease Outbreak

Lessons Learned and Next Steps
In September 2007, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published 15 National Planning Scenarios depicting “the broad range of natural and man-made threats facing our nation.” The scenarios include biological attacks of aerosol anthrax, food contamination, foreign animal disease, and the plague; chemical attacks involving a blister agent, nerve agent, toxic industrial chemicals, and a chlorine tank explosion; and a disease outbreak of pandemic influenza. Each has the potential to disrupt national and even global economic activity through rapidly spreading illness and death. All would require businesses and government organizations to adopt social-distancing and infection-control measures in order to continue operations.

Our study justifies cautious optimism that business and government organizations could, in fact, work through a crisis — if they prepare. Although the preventative measures adopted by our experimental group disrupted normal routines, employees found ways to incorporate the new behaviors into their work regimen without measureable impact on performance. Not only did a majority of participants express overall satisfaction with the measures, they also said the experience had given them the knowledge, tools, and confidence to handle a real, and even lengthier, pandemic.

We are preparing a more detailed article for a peer-reviewed academic journal to publicize our findings and lay the groundwork for follow-on studies that can replicate our results and help us understand how to implement pandemic response plans in other industries and workplace environments. But the key lesson, as Safe America Foundation CEO Len Pagano notes, is clear: “Businesses need to adopt a pandemic response plan and to prepare their employees accordingly.” Our study suggests that people will rise to the challenges presented by an infectious pandemic when given an effective plan, training, and tools.

Author Profiles:

Douglas E. Himberger is a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton with more than 30 years of experience in technology, education, health care, and security. He is a leader in the firm’s security team, supporting key clients including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, and leads the firm’s Global Risks Initiative Task Force.

Joan Bishop is a senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, providing all-hazards health preparedness and information technology consulting, as well as thought leadership in military medical programs across the Department of Defense and government.

Mike Magoon is a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, specializing in applying behavioral concepts, principles, and tools to improve organizational effectiveness and individual performance.
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  1. Margaret Besheer, “U.N. Urges Governments to Prepare for Possible Influenza Pandemic,” Voice of America, October 21, 2008: A senior U.N. health official warns that the world remains at risk.
  2. Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation,”, February 2007: Guidance on the use of nonpharmaceutical interventions to mitigate an influenza pandemic, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with other federal agencies and partners in the public health, education, business, health-care, and private sectors.
  3. Bob Graham et al., World at Risk: The Report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism (Vintage Books, 2008): A Congressional report detailing the dangers of bioterrorism.
  4. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “National Preparedness Guidelines (PDF),” September 2007: An analysis of the full spectrum of prevention, protection, response, and recovery efforts to prepare for terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
  5. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic,” OSHA 3327-02N, 2007: An overview of workplace preparedness.
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