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Pandemic Resources for Business

ACCORDING TO a Dutch proverb, sickness arrives on horseback and departs on foot. If predictions about a devastating influenza pandemic are correct, illness could be arriving on the wings of a bird, and it won’t go away until it brings society to its knees.

Businesses, of course, would be devastated if a pandemic robbed them of workers or customers. That, in turn, could contribute to societal disruptions when supply chains for food and drugs are severed.

To help organizations prepare for the worst, this month the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) is rolling out a suite of electronic services. A briefing service will provide a weekly e-mail newsletter containing information about relevant research and planning activities by business and government. A resource center on the Web will house documents such as company and state pandemic plans.

The potential effects of a pandemic have been getting worse over time because of the global just-in-time economy, explains Michael Osterholm, director of CIDRAP and associate director of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Center for Food Protection and Defense. Consequently, the CIDRAP services aim to help businesses make better strategic decisions, improving the health of employees and ensuring the ability of businesses to deliver critical supplies and services to the public and the government. “We’ve tied together the science of infectious disease with the practical issues and societal impact,” Osterholm says.

Part of CIDRAP’s mission is to gain the attention of business leaders who are constantly bombarded by risk, be it the prospect of terrorism or an impending hurricane season. Osterholm says he’s trying to help companies “sort out the things that are absolutely essential risks that you must deal with” and ones that won’t affect the survival of the company. “Pandemics occur,” he says. “They’re not optional.”