The American Academy of Family Physicians last year started developing its own crisis plan to deal with a possible avian flu pandemic. AAFP felt it was important to have a pandemic crisis plan so that the association would have the resources to support its members — the doctors who would be treating people around the country.

The association came up with a response plan that focused on three critical areas: staffing and day-to-day operations; meetings; and building operations (since AAFP owns its building and has tenants in its Leawood, Kan., headquarters).

The report includes specific action items — culled in part from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's pandemic influenza business planning checklist — for each of these three critical areas. Further, the action items are laid out in stages based on the World Health Organization's six stages of global alertness for a pandemic, which range from stage 1 (no influenza detected) to stage 6 (pandemic).

Sick Days and Meetings

AAFP's first step with regard to pandemic-readiness for meetings is to add pandemic influenza to force majeure contract clauses, allowing the association to cancel if the federal government or the WHO declares a pandemic.

Next, AAFP meeting planners should establish a contact with public health officials in the cities where meetings are being held in the future. “In almost all cases, there's going to be a local public health authority that's going to determine what will happen in a city (in the event of a pandemic),” says Michael Chamberlain, CAE, AAFP's assistant division director of administration. So, if there are any health alert status changes, planners will know “what their local plans are and what their expectations are for a large group of people coming into the city.” The association recommends doing this at stage 3 alert (human infections detected with no human-to-human transmission), which is now.

If an outbreak (stage 6) did occur while the group was at the meeting, the plan calls for following the directives of the local health officials in that city. The meeting planner is the group representative on-site who is responsible for calling the health officials as well as launching a pre-determined communication tree designed to notify all interested parties — including attendees, faculty, vendors, hotels, center officials, city and tourism officials, and association headquarters. Chamberlain also noted the importance of planners finding out in advance that the meeting venues and hotels have their own pandemic plan. In their research, AAFP found that hotels they contacted were “very well prepared,” he says.

Just recently, an industry vendor, The Freeman Cos., Dallas, came out with a pandemic preparedness report, which they are making available to the industry at the International Association of Exhibitions and Events Web site located at (www.iaee.com).

Staff, Stay Home

For staffing and operations, AAFP instituted a “containment leave policy,” which is an emergency bank of 30 additional sick days for each employee in case of a pandemic.

They also made each department develop “mission critical” functions. “If you had 50 percent of your staff gone, what are the things that you absolutely must do and how would you accomplish them?” Accomplishing those functions could involve telecommuting or offering remote access to systems.

While the crisis plan doesn't get into alternative ways of generating revenue if a meeting is canceled, it does require that a financial reserve be set aside to use during an emergency.

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