What would you do if nearly half your labor force couldn't show up for work? That was the question addressed in a recent live teleconference sponsored by the Transportation Marketing & Communications Association. In the event of an avian flu or other pandemic, organizations could face absentee rates of up to 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"I'm reminded how chilling this could be for the business community if this does come to pass," said Randy Mullett, vice president of government affairs for Con-way Inc. Mullett was joined by Lisa Koonin of the CDC to lead the teleconference, which was titled "Operating Your Company in a Pandemic: It All Starts With Communication."
Although a flu pandemic has yet to hit the United States, Koonin advised businesses to begin planning for a crisis now. Businesses will play a key role in protecting employees' health and safety as well as limiting the impact on the economy and society as a whole. "You can't turn your shoulder," said Koonin. "You must do everything you can to fight it."
Con-way Inc., a $ 4.2 billion freight transportation and logistics company, may be ahead of most when it comes to planning for an outbreak. It established a cross-functional pandemic task force over a year ago. It now has a preparedness plan in place for protecting its employees, business, customers and shareholders. "We realized the downside was enormous and it was irresponsible to do nothing,"Mullett said. "On the upside, we discovered it didn't cost a lot to do, plus we discovered many unanticipated benefits that we can leverage in our day-to-day operations."
Con-way's pandemic preparedness plan is based on six key directives:
Koonin said she hopes the transportation industry follows Con-way's lead and takes a proactive approach. "There will be transportation issues," she said, "and I encourage all businesses to take action now." For a list of available resources, including a Pandemic Checklist for Business, visit www.pandemicflu.gov and www.cdc.gov/business.