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Don't Wait for Disaster

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For example, the company has had a telecommuting policy for years, but needed to make sure it would apply in the event of an outbreak, says Jim Wick, task force chairman and environmental health and safety manager for the Americas at Intel. Human resources policies, including pay practices and travel support, have also come under scrutiny.

Workforce planning has included telecommuting, but, since Intel is a manufacturer, it has had to plan how to maintain business functions while protecting employees who must work onsite. The company has developed facility cleaning procedures, which include personal health and hygiene practices, such as the usage of antibacterial hand cleaners.

"And, we've tested. Every major business unit and site has gone through a pandemic exercise or drill," Wick says.

Intel has shared its preparations with its contractors and suppliers, and has encouraged them to plan, too. "We have some key suppliers; if they are crippled by the disease hitting their employee base, that hurts our business, too."

The task force has also done a lot of education for its nearly 100,000 employees, including an intranet site with tips on how they can safeguard their families from contagious diseases.

All of the planning is what Wick calls prudent preparedness. Unlike other companies, such as airline firm Virgin Atlantic, Intel made a policy decision not to stock antiviral medicine Tamiflu.

"I think we've done the prudent thing for our business--to protect our people, which are our most valuable resource," he says.

If a pandemic hits, it could last for weeks or months, notes Don Ainslie, global security officer at Deloitte & Touche. Once it's over, organizations will be evaluated on "how well they treat their people and how they service their clients," he says.

This was first published in December 2006

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