I remember scoffing at a colleague a year ago when he suggested covering avian flu in the magazine. An outbreak in human beings would be so catastrophic, I replied, that it's hard to even imagine — let alone write about the potential implications for the meeting industry.
Anyway, it probably won't ever happen, I said.
A year later, we're bombarded almost daily with evidence that it's critical to be prepared for a bird flu pandemic. In May, the White House released a 228-page report outlining how individuals, businesses, local and federal governments, and community groups should respond. The report is based on a worst-case scenario that would result in 1.9 million deaths and keep 40 percent of the work force at home.
But the reality is that most companies (and meeting executives) are still where I was a year ago — in denial. The only ones who seem to be taking the threat seriously are those whose businesses — and meetings — were affected by SARS.
For example, a “Business Planning for Pandemic Influenza” conference held by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis in February was attended by representatives from more than 200 companies, which shelled out a hefty $1,800 registration fee per attendee. Yet a survey taken at the summit found that just 18 percent of the attendees — presumably among the most prepared companies out there — had contingency plans.
Intel, for one, has formed a 12-member committee to focus on avian flu, including its effect on its travel and meetings. One way that Intel intends to minimize risks is by substituting videoconferencing for face-to-face meetings. It also has a system so that, in an emergency, it's possible to see who is traveling in, or about to travel to, an impact area, and to either cancel that travel or intercept the traveler.
There's a lot to learn from Intel and other such companies — not just about avian flu but about risk management and contingency planning in general. Take a look at the section of our Web site devoted specifically to these topics. (Visit meetingsnet.com and click on “Checklists/How To's” on the top bar, then “Risk Management.”) And check out our article on avian flu starting on page 22. Not to be an alarmist or anything, but you can't afford not to.
Congratulations to Executive Editor Susan Hatch for winning the gold award from the American Society of Business Press Editors Northeast Region for her article on social networking tools in the February 2005 issue of CMI.