April 3, 2006- Beat you to the punch. This is another column on avian influenza. But before you turn the page, take a moment to perform a self-assessment on your company’s bird-flu preparedness. Are you as prepared as you need to be? Unless you have worked through an assessment of at least three different contagion scenarios involving avian influenza and what they mean for your company and how it would respond, there is a lot more you should do.
First of all, let’s stipulate that no poultry business can ever be fully prepared for an all-out H5N1 pandemic. This is not, however, an excuse to not prepare. In fact, even if no pandemic occurs, your business can benefit from the planning exercise. The preparations and insights gained from dealing with potential bird flu scenarios will result in your business being better prepared for other emergencies, such as fires, storms, terrorist attack, shortages of raw materials or epidemics of other diseases.
Think Strategically. Planning and preparation for a bird-flu scenario needs the buy-in and support of top management. Initiating the process at the top level is important to getting the necessary participation and follow-through at all levels of the organization. Furthermore, a global outlook is needed to assess how various disease scenarios would impact suppliers, customers, availability of labor, governmental services, etc.
Assemble an In-house Team of Experts. Involve all levels of your organization in the planning process. This not only helps make the planning more thorough and realistic, it paves the way for implementation.
Don’t Forget the Basics. Poultry companies have a healthy every-day appreciation for this basic business maxim. Make sure that every segment of the integrated complex is paying close attention to everything from hygiene and security to supplier practices. Communication and written records are essential.
Work with Vendors and Customers in Advance. Maybe you don’t want to worry your customer or vendor with the potentially negative consequences of an outbreak or pandemic, but when you demonstrate professionalism, they should value and appreciate your preparedness. After all, your planning helps protect their business interests as well.
Develop a Well-Rounded Public Relations Plan. If you haven’t done so already, get to know your local media and build relationships there. You probably will not want to be the one to bring up the subject of bird flu, but the media will raise the issue at some point. Be ready with talking points. Tailor your talking points to various scenarios and respond appropriately.
Tap Outside Expertise. Don’t try to go it alone. Enlist the help of experts in various disciplines to make sure your preparedness is realistic and appropriate.
Work The Plan. After your program is prepared, don’t put it on the shelf and forget it. It should be a living plan that is continually reviewed and updated. Keep the critical responders in your organization involved in the process.
Remember, plan for various scenarios (best-case, mild-pandemic, worst-case, etc.). Even if no avian influenza pandemic occurs in your life-time, there are benefits to planning and preparing.