Most U.S. companies haven’t planned for how to stay in business during a flu pandemic, or even if they’ll follow federal advice that potentially contagious employees should stay home, a survey suggests.

Public health specialists and the government are pressuring businesses to prepare for a worldwide outbreak of the bird flu or some other super-strain of influenza, a crisis that could bankrupt many companies if their workers are too sick or scared to show up and their supply chains disappear.

The concern isn’t just because of economics, but because many companies provide products and services that people literally can’t live without, explained Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, who advises the government.

Avian flu may come to nothing, of course. But people should be thinking of this, because the likelihood that some sort of epidemic will strike is too hight to ignore.

UPDATE: Reader Jason Davis emails:

I work for a U.S. consulting firm and I am currently working in Asia. We are assuming that at any point within the next year many borders could be shut down during brief periods. We are particularly planning for a closed border between Hong-Kong and mainland China and are positioning our people appropriately in case of a border crossing freeze. We have estimated the costs and delays to our projects, and it isn’t pretty. I am confident we are not the only organization taking concrete steps, and I imagine the trend will grow and stay with us for a long time to come.


P.S. – I personally am currently sitting in a suburb just outside Jakarta, Indonesia called Tangerang where several of the bird flu cases have been diagnosed. I’m not panicking just yet ;-)

Good. But I’m glad to hear that people are planning for this. Sooner or later, regardless of what happens with avian flu, we’ll need to be prepared.