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Mixed Bag: Federal Agencies Report Varied Preparedness For H1N1 Swine Flu Outbreak
The ability of Federal Agencies to respond to a pandemic outbreak is mixed, according to a new study conducted in the wake of the H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak.
The study, conduced by Telework ExchangeSM, a public-private partnership focused on telework in government, suggested that telework will be a key remedy for maintaining Continuity of Operations (COOP) during a pandemic.
The study shows that agencies need to plan ahead to support the remote workforce in order to maintain operations in a pandemic. Should H1N1 have infected the city in which Federal employees work, only 51 percent indicated that they would definitely show up for work. If H1N1 cases were reported in their office, just 26 percent said that they would definitely show up for work.
The study shows that Federal agencies need to provide additional guidance to employees on how to respond to a potential pandemic. Forty-two percent of respondents noted that they had not received any guidance. The majority of the remaining 58 percent who did receive guidance from their agency said that most guidance focused on personal hygiene – “wash your hands” – rather than on tangible operational plans on how to continue working when the office is closed or cannot be reached.
However, some respondents’ feedback was positive. Thirty-two percent of Feds gave their agencies A and B grades on H1N1 survivability.
Still, comparing the results of this study against a similar Telework Exchange study conducted during the Avian Flu scare of 2006 shows that the Federal government is moving in the right direction. In 2006, 21 percent of Feds knew that their agencies’ COOP plans included plans for a flu pandemic. That number increased to 33 percent in this H1N1 study sample. However, the OPM Pandemic Guide of 2006 points to President Bush’s Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, which directs every agency to develop a comprehensive preparedness plan.
“A pandemic has the potential to be a nationwide Katrina emergency,” says Cindy Auten, general manager, Telework Exchange. “The study demonstrates once again that telework is not a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ option. Agencies need to embrace telework as a standard operating procedure for it to deliver real COOP value.”
The “H1N1 – Uncle Sam’s COOP Exam” study is based on a survey of 307 Federal employees. To download the full study results, please visit www.teleworkexchange.com/H1N1.