Don't Wait for Disaster

Catastrophe Planning
At Assurant, planning for a possible avian flu pandemic began in earnest earlier this year. The employees involved in the effort serve on a handful of committees representing various departments, including IT, healthcare and human resources.

"It's a significant effort," says Klahn, who is on the IT committee. "We're running down every scenario we can."

For example, a pandemic may cause claims to go up, so the company--which has about 12,000 employees--needs to plan accordingly so it can best serve its customers.

Being able to have employees work remotely, either at home or elsewhere, is a top priority that comes with plenty of challenges. Experts suggest that paper-based processes and privacy regulations such as HIPAA are some of the issues companies face in creating offsite work situations. In some instances--such as customer-service representatives needing sensitive data to handle calls--having employees work at home raises privacy issues if that data is on their personal computers, Gartner's Witty says.

Understanding the company's critical business functions has been crucial in the planning effort, especially for IT, Klahn says. Rather than just throwing up a lot of remote-access technology, understanding

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essential processes can lead to other solutions.

"We have to prioritize which business functions are most critical to keep running. We might repurpose people and give them the opportunity to work in different parts of the company to keep those critical functions going," he says.


This was first published in December 2006

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