Don't Wait for Disaster

Security managers are covering their bases to curb the effects of an avian flu pandemic. Here's what some are doing.

In the insurance business, planning for the unexpected is all in a day's work. But for the past several months, Paul Klahn has been planning for the unthinkable: an avian flu pandemic.

As information security officer for Assurant Employee Benefits, a Kansas City-based unit of insurance firm Assurant, Klahn is part of a team preparing the company should a pandemic strike. Team members plot out how to weather scary scenarios like severe workforce shortages, the need to keep employees apart and a possible surge in claims.

"You have to start planning," Klahn says. "Everything I've read from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) characterizes it as a real threat."

The warnings from experts about the possibility of an avian flu pandemic are certainly ominous. According to WHO, the H5N1 virus--a strain of avian influenza--has "considerable" pandemic potential. If the virus becomes fully transmissible between humans, it will spread throughout the world in three months, the organization believes.

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This was first published in December 2006

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