Bird Flu, Banks, Swines and You

It seems that we’re never too far from a crisis. Whether we’re crunched by credit, panicked by pandemics, or outraged by outbreaks, there’s always something to be worried about. It may seem that all that worry is wasted energy, and to a large degree it is, however, some of that concern delivers real benefits when the Next Big Thing comes our way.

Looking back it’s easy to think that the Financial Services Authority could have found something more productive to do in the months leading up to the credit crunch than pull together board directors and key strategic managers from the leading UK banks and financial services businesses to take part in a large scale bird flu pandemic simulation over a number of weeks. Other organisations undertook their own emergency planning programmes, involving people at all levels to ensure that all foreseeable risks were covered. Bird flu has not made it to large scale human to human transition, so we’re not very worried about it now, the credit crunch was not foreseen so wasn’t planned for.

However that planning has already been used by businesses throughout the UK, reducing panic, maintaining business as usual and making life better for everyone. The need to keep cash moving is always identified by economists and criminologists as a key priority in emergency situations. When it looked like some UK banks could fall over, and panicky customers sought to draw out their cash, bird flu planning procedures helped to mobilise cash. When snow ‘gripped the country’ at the start of 2009 and people couldn’t get to work, bird flu planning procedures kicked in to ensure that thousands of employees could carry on working from home seamlessly, thanks to IT departments planning for restricted movement.

The emergence of swine flu has already seen organisations raise their internal preparedness level. It will be great if it doesn’t get used in a pandemic this year, but the planning that people do now will make business smoother in the long term.