“While California businesses are all too familiar with preparing for potential disasters such as earthquakes,” Abercrombie noted, “local businesses need to look at the special challenges posed by the potential of a public health crisis caused by a global influenza pandemic, especially those business that are unique to California, like its motion picture and tourist industries.”
Abercrombie, who shared details of Roche's own plans to safeguard the health of its employees and business infrastructure during a pandemic flu outbreak, says that Los Angeles' film and tourist industries should pay particular attention.
In March, Trust for America's Health released a report (funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts as part of the U.S. Pandemic Preparedness Initiative) estimating that California could lose $86.9 billion in income and trade as a result of a severe pandemic flu outbreak. The report indicates that states with high levels of tourism and entertainment could be the hardest hit. According to researchers, industries that require a high degree of social interaction, such as California's entertainment industry and state tourist sector, such as theme parks, hotels and restaurants, would likely experience the greatest decline in demand-an estimated 80 percent.
“Unlike a shorter-lived natural disaster, influenza pandemics come in waves-each one lasting anywhere from four-to-12 weeks and continuing for 1 to 2 years,” said Abercrombie. “Because officials expect that 20 percent to 30 percent of people will become ill, businesses must think in new ways about protecting employees and keeping critical business components running.”
According to Abercrombie, while other industries are able to ask staff to work from home during a pandemic, film studios and tourist-driven businesses may not be able to exercise the same options. In fact, experts believe that many businesses and organizations would have difficulty maintaining operations as a result of an increased level of absenteeism due to illness, employees caring for the sick and social-distancing policies.
Based on his experiences working with the federal government the past several years on pandemic preparedness, Abercrombie reminded the audience that the government has asked private businesses to share in the responsibility of planning. While the federal government has plans to help slow the spread of the virus among critical populations, such as healthcare workers and emergency personnel, it is up to local communities and businesses to ensure that residents and employees stay healthy and that businesses and local economies remain up and running.
More information on how businesses can organize their own pandemic plans is available online at http://www.pandemictoolkit.com. For more information about the Trust for America's Health, visit http://healthyamericans.org/reports/flurecession/releases/CA.pdf.