What’s all the Flap about Feathers?


Abstract needed here…


Last month we wrote our own little WAKE UP article titled “The Chicken and the Egg – Revisited”…and this month we would like to shake you out of bed! Tune into the news any day of the week and you are likely to hear of yet another country that has succumbed to the spread of the H5N1 Avian Flu. This flu which is spread by migratory birds has proven very lethal to the world’s bird population, and to people who have come into close proximity with the infected birds. Just what is all the fuss….and should we be paying more attention to how this may affect our businesses and supply chains? We believe that the answer is a resounding YES. 

Major Flyways of Migratory Birds 
© United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 

No Protection

During the past eight months we have seen the virus spread from Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and West Africa. Recently it was announced that Iraq has become infected, as well as several additional western European countries. The increase in the quantity of the virus in these countries and the continual rapid spread along migratory bird routes only increases our chances of a mutation to a flu that will pass easily from person to person. The H5N1 is considered an influenza A virus subtype. Influenza A viruses can infect many different animals including pigs, horses, swans, geese, chickens and ducks. An influenza virus seen in one type of animal can cross over rather easily and cause illness in another type of animal. 
This crossover is referred to as mixing or mutation. This mixing or mutation is what becomes a new subtype. 
The H5N1 is a relatively new subtype that humans have had no previous exposure to, and therefore no resistance to, and no antibodies to protect us from. 

Confirmed Human Cases of H5N1 © WHO 

Will the mutation from animal to person and then from person to person actually take place? The best and brightest from the Medical Community say that it is inevitable. The Centers for Disease Control and The World Health Organization seem to feel that the H5N1 has the most potential to cause the next global pandemic that they have seen in decades. We see different strains of flu each year and usually give it very little thought other than to consider getting a flu shot. Each year in the United Sates there are approximately 20,000 – 60,000 deaths from the flu, and millions more suffer from the illness. These deaths usually occur in the elderly, thus most of us think there is little cause for concern. However, the H5N1 has proven to be extremely lethal and has included deaths in all age groups, especially young healthy adults. Can you imagine a flu pandemic in this country that has the potential to kill not thousands, but millions of young healthy Americans?  What a pandemic of this magnitude could (and would) do to our basic day to day life and all of the things we take for granted is mind boggling.  
A pandemic of this nature would disrupt the very core of this country’s infraucture on every level – energy, consumer goods, financial services, waste management, and virtually all types of transportation – 
oh, and tourism –”FAHGITAHBOWTIT!”

Incidence of H5N1 Virus  © UN World FoodPrograms
Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch 

What Can We Do? 

So, now that we quite possibly have your attention – you may be asking—what can I do? What can my company do? What is my first line of defense?  Pandemic survival plans must be created and put into place now at both the individual/family level and at the enterprise level.  The resiliency of your company’s supply chain will depend on how solid your plan is and how realistic the implementation of that plan is.  Some key characteristics of that plan include: 

  • supplier preparedness, 
  • transportation partner preparedness,
  • Information Technology capabilities  
  • a risk analysis of your global footprint, and 
  • MOST IMPORTANT– will your key employees show up to work when the pandemic creeps up on their horizon????  

During Hurricane season, key healthcare workers in Florida deserted their posts, not showing up for work. What makes you think they will arrive at your factory, warehouse, store or office? 

Does your business have a pandemic plan?  Do you and your loved ones have the materials & supplies on hand NOW, to sustain you through a possibly long crisis?  

Katrina should have taught us valuable lessons about our government’s preparedness and responsiveness. 
We saw certain businesses with responsiveness—CVS and Wal-Mart—both support society as well as their specific customers. These firms not only spend time on the physical supply chain elements, but on data bases that can support their customers—no matter where the customer winds up (Milwaukie shelter vs. down town New Orleans). Before Katrina hit, many other firms had already had plans and discussion with port operators in the East Coast about moving traffic out of New Orleans and Texas—so that they were able to go right into action.

These are but simple examples of disaster preparedness. Do you know what feasible and important things there are for you to consider? Are you confident that your plan will work?

The simple question remains:  Are you ready?

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