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Financial Services Firms Simulate Flu Pandemic

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the a-bit-of-government-cheer dept.

Businesses 150

jcatcw writes "The U.S. Government is co-sponsoring a three-week exercise that will simulate the impact of a flu pandemic on financial services firms, including their ability to support telecommuters. The exercise is expected to be the largest in U.S. history and will involve more than 1,800 firms. From the article: 'The program will follow a compressed time frame that simulates the impact of a 12-week pandemic wave. Participants will be given information on how many absentee employees they can expect. Companies won't know exactly how hard they will be hit with sick-calls from employees until this data is made available ... In addition, participating firms won't be able to pick and choose the level of workforce reductions they get hit by.'"

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150 comments

Excuse (0, Offtopic)

Leftist Troll (825839) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400731)

Familiar with the plot of V for Vendetta?

Re:Excuse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20402119)

V for Vendetta is the reality. Reality is the fantasy. By the way I noticed your nic. I hope you know the left isn't on our side either. Ahem Iraq, yeah they have kept their promises there. The Wachowski brothers have been trying to get people to realize that we are in a matrix. Not literally, but psychologically.

Huh? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20400757)

I'm assuming there's some ulterior motive for this, this is the US government we're talking about, but I'm really unclear as to what it might be. Stave off a catastrophic market crash by severely slowing trading? Or what?

My company is doing the same. (2, Interesting)

FatSean (18753) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400825)

We got the call a few months ago that our systems need to be 'pandemic-resilient' by the end of the next devel-deploy cycle. Basically, your average multiple-geography high-availability solutions will serve. I guess the plan is that if one datacenter goes away, the others will pick up the work with no interruption.

Interesting stuff.

Re:Huh? (2, Interesting)

Applekid (993327) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401215)

The ulterior motive is to quantify how expensive it would be for the economy if a flu pandemic hits. That data could be used in cost-benefit analysis for vaccinations and vaccine stockpiles.

Though, that's not much of an ulterior motive. It sure beats releasing diseases into the populace to find out, that's for sure.

I mean, come on, nobody could be THAT evil.

(oblig. scene of Mr. Burns laughing at a worker hanging on for dear life outside his window)

Been there, done that (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401699)

1966 U.S. Army dispenses Bacillus subtilis variant niger throughout the New York City subway system. More than a million civilians are exposed when army scientists drop lightbulbs filled with the bacteria onto ventilation grates.
http://www.rense.com/general36/history.htm [rense.com]
Not mentioned there, but at least one person died from this.

Not really (5, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401295)

The disease tracking is showing that diseases spread fast when a population gets overpopulated. Within the last 5 years, WHO has shown that simple flu now moves through the world in a matter of 1-2 weeks. It is a real indication that mother nature is about to do what she does to the top of the chain; ravage it via hunger and/or disease. Most likely, it will be a flu as it is difficult to distinguish from a cold, and the ease of transmission. WHO and CDC feel certain that either this season or next will be a big hit. At that time, the only real way to slow the spread is to keep everybody seperate. Those who work in factories will be a very high risk, The same is true of stores (lots of ppl passing by) and office will be the worse. But in the office, most can actually telicommute. That will slow the spread until a vaccine is developed, assuming that the new all encompassing flu vaccine does not work.

The feds are simply acting responsibile, and seeing what will be the general reaction.

Telecommute? Maybe... Maybe Not (1)

MarkAyen (726688) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402055)

The same is true of stores (lots of ppl passing by) and office will be the worse. But in the office, most can actually telicommute.
So, what happens when 25%-50% of the world's network engineers are out sick and the Internet crashes to a halt [computerworld.com] (not to mention the possible crippling of the power grid [umn.edu]) because of ten million stay-at-home employees all trying use Go To My PC at once?

Businesses whose pandemic plans hinge on their workers' ability to telecommute may be in for a rude (and economically devastating) shock.

Re:Telecommute? Maybe... Maybe Not (3, Funny)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402843)

The idea is to test all of this now. The telecommute will work fine if several things are in place:
  • A way to access their work, securely. VPN, ssh, https are in places in a number of areas.
  • A way to talk. VOIP and/or PSTN work wonders combined with IM and email.
  • A willingness to accept it by all.
It is the last one that will be difficult for employees AND managers. A number of ppl like to separate their work from home. They will have to learn to set aside one room for work.

As to the power grid, I am not too worried about it. The plants will have to work to keep their employees separated by distance, as well as consider how to keep them separate from the general populace. As to the powerload, I think that it will actually be just a bit more, not hugely more. The reason is that there will be less driving. In addition, the offices will have to run their fans constantly, but will AC and even light far less (and most large office buildings run AC during the day even in the winter due to computer and human heat).

One issue that I can see is the current trend in offices is to do smaller and small binnies. That means that everybody is closer. When something starts, the companies will have to be willing to move quickly to telecommuting. If not, they could lose a SIGNIFICANT chunk of their office workers in a very short time. Here at Verizon, they are cramming ppl into 1/4 of the space that we had back in the late 80's.

Re:Telecommute? Maybe... Maybe Not (1)

Brickwall (985910) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403909)

I doubt the power load will go up at all. After all, if these people are using computers at work, the power load won't be affected by their using computers at home; the total drain would be the same. And, I think it would actually drop, because there won't be as much photocopying being done. The average copier uses about 1 kW; and most companies have two or three of those.

How useful is that? (5, Funny)

Mr.Fork (633378) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400827)

Why not simulate the impact of Paris Hilton going naked down the street with the words "Google RULES" painted onto her butt cheeks? I'm sure that will have a definate impact on their stock.

Re:How useful is that? (5, Interesting)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401147)

Underneath the Hilton sarcasm, P has a valid point. How useful is this, really?

participants will gather in conference rooms and assess how their businesses would be affected if a bird flu outbreak or other pandemic resulted in major reductions in the number of available employees.
Note they are not doing any real-world testing of what would happen. No, they are sitting in conference rooms talking about what they think would happen.

Re:How useful is that? (3, Insightful)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401195)

> participants will gather in conference rooms

This cracks me up like you wouldn't believe. Think about it for a moment.

Re:How useful is that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20401335)

My solution for a flu pandemic? Here's your bucket, yack in there and get back to work...

Re:How useful is that? (5, Informative)

OriginalArlen (726444) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401975)

Whilst I'm not quite so cynical about the value of such exercises (they will tend to bring SOME unexpected problems to light; it's just that you can't guarantee that they'll find all the bugs in the process) the major problem is with the realism of what they're simulating. I did a lot of research into this a couple of years back (our then head of security said "We don't need to worry -- we have a stock of Tamiflu", and I ended up reading the clinical trial results and the datasheets for the stuff, as well as the major respectable papers on the topic. The was a dedicated issue in, I think, Nature (or it may have be> Oh BTW: the mortality rate en Science, or the BMJ - I forget), and another which was genuinely frightening (without trying to be) in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Note to the cynics -- these are about the most respected non-specialist journals of record in the relevant fields. If you're one of those "Avian flu? Pffft, Duke Nukem will arrive first" types, I advise you to go and talk to virologists and epidemiologists before talking crap about a subject you know nothing about) - Suffice to say Tamiflu increases the survival rate to about 45% -- from 35-40% when untreated. So more than half the people who get infected will die. )

Where was I?

Oh yes - right - 12 weeks. 12 weeks is a reasonable time frame for a single epidemic wave to cover the nation and then subside again. However the duration of the emergency is unlikely to be less than a year (the 1918 pandemic lasted a couple of years), during which time there will be multiple waves of infection in a localised population. Bear in mind that when the second wave arrives, you have n-(i*m) staff at the start of the wave (n = number of staff, i = infection rate, m=mortality rate.) And as seeing 10-20% of one's colleagues dying unpleasantly from a highly contagious disease is unlikely to increase people's enthusiasm for coming to work in an office, it's likely there'd be a huge economic hit that would take years to work it's way through - even after a free vaccine's being distributed by the U.N.

Re:How useful is that? (4, Insightful)

Angostura (703910) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402751)

Suffice to say Tamiflu increases the survival rate to about 45% -- from 35-40% when untreated.


I assume that these figures are for human infection with the existing H5N1 bird flu. It is worth pointing out that we don't know what the mortality rate of the eventual human pandemic will be, since the virus isn't here yet.

Re:How useful is that? (3, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403275)

As an FYI,
I have read that Tamiflu is excreted essentially unchanged in your urine.
If it comes down to life and death keep that in mind.

Flu (3, Funny)

ccs.gott (1144593) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402167)

See, I used to simulate the flu all the time... I have found that it was quite useful, until my parents caught on.

Re:How useful is that? (4, Informative)

archen (447353) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402553)

I've actually gone through a few scenarios with the flew outbreak. Where I work we've had times when our workforce has been cut by 50% by blizzard conditions. Our facility actually did function alright, however there's no way we could sustain that over say; two weeks.

I also did some thinking about how to punch holes in the firewall and allow people to work remotely from home and such. The problem is that the network is simply going to buckle and die - if not at our T1, before then. Sure test it all you want, but what happens when EVERYONE decides to telecommute in order to keep things working? It's like 9/11. We're a company in northern PA and were putting a new accounting system into production. Well we had problems and needed outside help from the programmers across the country - just phone support mind you. Unfortunately all phone lines were down. If you had told me that blowing up two buildings in NYC would take down phone access at our company I would have laughed at you - now I really have little hope that initially anyone would be prepared for any large scale disaster.

Personally I'm just trying to figure out what to do about keyboards. Someone is going to come in sick and cough crap up into these things. I mean it's a biohazard waiting to happen, and as an IT person you're going to have to touch more than most people. I guess gloves will be alright for a while, but we'll probably have to throw out keyboards for just about everyone in the end. Huge pain in the ass that will be.

The real question (0)

bobdotorg (598873) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400851)

Is Slashdot ready for all these additional telecommuters?

Would Slashdot be Fludotted? (fludotted - ick)

Re:The real question (4, Insightful)

Red_Foreman (877991) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400915)

Unfortunately this simulation is a bit... unsound. Not everyone that catches the flu shows symptoms, nor do they miss work. Instead, they just infect those that they work with, and I don't seen anything in the article that leads me to believe that they're factoring this in.

This might be an interesting study, but the money might be better spent just reminding people to wash their hands frequently. That simple act alone can save billions of dollars nationwide in time lost due to illness in the workplace.

It's disgusting how many people will sneeze, use the bathroom, whatever, and don't wash their hands afterwards.

Re:The real question (2, Informative)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401105)

Unfortunately this simulation is a bit... unsound. Not everyone that catches the flu shows symptoms, nor do they miss work. Instead, they just infect those that they work with, and I don't seen anything in the article that leads me to believe that they're factoring this in.

This isn't a simulation of flu transmission, it's a simulation of how your company works when a third of the people are telecommuting and another third are dead.

Re:The real question (3, Interesting)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401343)

Not everyone that catches the flu shows symptoms, nor do they miss work. Instead, they just infect those that they work with,
True. In the case of a pandemic flu my employer has a policy in place that admittance to the workplace will be on a need-only basis. In other words, if you are HR, finance, marketing, engineering, etc. you don't come in. You work from home till the pandemic is passed. In my case I do machine maintenance and code development. I would work from home unless something was broken, then I would go in.
-nB

Re:The real question (1)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401499)

Unfortunately this simulation is a bit... unsound. Not everyone that catches the flu shows symptoms, nor do they miss work. Instead, they just infect those that they work with, and I don't seen anything in the article that leads me to believe that they're factoring this in.

Wow, arrogant much? You REALLY think that just because something is not explicitly spelled out in an article you read that they didn't think of it at all?

Re:The real question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20402403)

Just about every SARS epidemic simulation [google.com] seems to have factored that infected people can infect other people.

Re:The real question (4, Funny)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400995)

Is Slashdot ready for all these additional telecommuters?

Goofing off on Slashdot at work vs. goofing off on slashdot at home through while pretending to work via the VPN connection shouldn't affect traffic levels.

Did a test like this years ago (5, Interesting)

eaddict (148006) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400859)

When I worked at a financial institution we had a disaster recovery test where when the employees came to work they drew a marble out of a bucket. One color meant go home - you were unavailable for work. The other meant you were OK and could work. Made for an interesting day. The IS dept I worked for at the time did have its stuff together and ran flawlessly at about 50%. Mind you, this was just to maintain business for the customers. We could NOT stay staffed at that level if ANYONE in the organization ever wanted to do more than just keep the boat afloat. I wish my existing employer would do something like this.

Re:Did a test like this years ago (2, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401221)

One color meant go home - you were unavailable for work.

I'd keep a pocket full of different colored marbles just in case a test like this came up again...

Employee: "Interesting, Mr. Smith, MyLongNickName has drawn a green marble 13 times in a row! What are the odds"
Mr. Smith: "Very Interesting. We've only had 7 disaster recovery tests."

My company did something better (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20401471)

In our disaster recovery test, employees who drew a blue marble went home, while those who drew the white ones stayed and worked. In addition, we got to sacrifice whoever drew one black marble which made those of us who had to stay and work a little less jealous of those sent home.

Re:Did a test like this years ago (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403143)

and how does it work when one the person who is sent home is the one who is the guy who says yes or no to things or has the passworks do people who are still working brake the rules to get there job done even if that means that you have to hack a password.

Re:Did a test like this years ago (2, Insightful)

HUADPE (903765) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403271)

and how does it work when one the person who is sent home is the one who is the guy who says yes or no to things or has the passworks do people who are still working brake the rules to get there job done even if that means that you have to hack a password.

It means that your disaster recovery is very bad, and the organization should give more people access to the recovery tools needed for these things.

Re:Did a test like this years ago (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403223)

and how does it work when one the person who is sent home is the one who is the guy who says yes or no to things or has the passwords do people who are still working brake the rules to get there job done even if that means that you have to hack a password.

Re:Did a test like this years ago (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 6 years ago | (#20404263)

My employer tried a more realistic flu simulation last winter. If you picked the red marble you put it back and went about your day. If you picked the black marble, you had to lick it first.

Simulation we REALLY need to run (3, Funny)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 6 years ago | (#20400909)

We need to see how companies can hold up during a zombie infestation.

"Awww, man, it's just a little bite. Let me finish this backup and . ." BLAMMM!

Wha? (2, Funny)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401341)

We need to see how companies can hold up during a zombie infestation.

But, don't we already have zombies in the Customer Support lines?

Re:Simulation we REALLY need to run (1)

grassy_knoll (412409) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402035)

It's funny, but you might be on to something.

If you could keep operating in, say, the environment of the movie 28 Days Later I imagine more realistic disasters wouldn't be a challenge.

Re:Simulation we REALLY need to run (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 6 years ago | (#20404237)

I'm guessing the only viable buisness model in such a situation is Braaaains 'R Us

In all seriousness though, this is a two sided issue, it's not just decreased workforce, it is also decreased customer base - which no one seems to be considering.

Pandemic awareness training (1)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401089)

We recently had "Pandemic awareness" training here at my job. (Fortune 500 manufacturer/retail goods)

The end result? We learned that we were having the training because "Awareness" was the first step in their plan, should there be a pandemic.... but no other portion of the plan had been completed yet. Needless to say - if there's actually an outbreak, my company, along with many others (IMO) would be screwed.

Re:Pandemic awareness training (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401155)

Yes, but they'd be 'aware' that they were screwed. ;)

I work at a small company with 2 other techs and they recently went to a conference for a few days... That was fun, I can tell you. If that happened for 2 weeks they'd probably come back as the only 2 techs left. ;)

What Pandemic? (2, Interesting)

frank249 (100528) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401129)

Why all this concern for something that might happen[but probally won't]? 10 people who live with chickens may die[it could be 1 million!] but likely 10. What surprises me is that 30,000 people die each year in the US from the regular flu but no one seems to be concerned. Millions have died from HIV/AIDS but yet infected people cannot be restricted from having unprotected sex with uninfected people. There is likely a greater chance to be hit by an asteroid yet NASA's sky watch program is being cut. My guess that all this pandemic talk is just more fear mongering to take the public's mind off of politics and the economy is more likely.

Re:What Pandemic? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20401281)

Uh.. Well I hate to call you stupid but...

This is about the "regular" flu! They were simulating what would happen if a sizable portion of their workforce get sick with the flu and aren't able to work (not die, just unable to work). What article were you reading (or not reading)? Hell what SUMMARY were you reading? WHAT HEADLINE? No where is the bird flu mentioned.

Re:What Pandemic? (5, Informative)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401303)

My guess that all this pandemic talk is just more fear mongering to take the public's mind off of politics and the economy is more likely.

Are you REALLY that clueless, or are you just trolling because you think you're scoring some anti-the-current-administration points, somehow?

The last real doozy of a flu pandemic killed 50-100 MILLION people [wikipedia.org] - most of whom were young, and otherwise healthy. This isn't like a once every 50 millions years asteroid collision we're talking about. Plenty of people alive right now were around when the last one happened, and lost family members. It was real. And that one happened before ubiquitous air travel between continents. We now have vastly more dense population centers, and arguably a much more fragile "just-in-time" style economy. Pretending this isn't a risk is foolish. Pretending that it's only hype from your political opponents is childish.

Re:What Pandemic? (5, Interesting)

Puls4r (724907) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401819)

It goes beyond that. We have moved away from a farm-based economy. Back then, many folks new how to grow their own food, or had access to people who did. They knew how to save food, had access to well-water that did not need pumps, etc. If there was a flu pandemic that actually created a breakdown in services, people would begin to die within 2 weeks due to stravation. Sooner due to poison / bad water supplies - or worse if the power dropped out, NO water. The original poster has to be a troll. Us folks up in the Northeast understand a bit about what will happen - the blackout several years ago showed just how fragile modern society is. Without power - gas could not be pumped. Without gas, cars and trucks did not move. Without cars and trucks, NO one showed up for work, NO deliveries were made to the supermarket. Everything in your fridge rotted inside a week. If you were lucky, like me, you live in the country and have a well where you can get water from without an electrically powered pump. If you weren't lucky, you were stuck buying bottled water - then after that you were drinking out of the tank on the back of your toilet. That's only when a small PART of the country lost power. I can't believe these idiots are running this type of simulation. If there is a flu pandemic, NO ONE is going to be going to work. Army folks who are called back aren't going to show, and the country is going to go to hell in a handbasket.

Re:What Pandemic? (1)

Xtravar (725372) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401983)

If there was a flu pandemic that actually created a breakdown in services, people would begin to die within 2 weeks due to stravation.
Maybe people on the coasts, but not the midwest. Score one for fat people, wooo!!!! We're gonna ride this famine out!

Re:What Pandemic? (2, Funny)

corbettw (214229) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402461)

Score one for fat people, wooo!!!! We're gonna ride this famine out!
No, you'll just help us fit people last a bit longer. ;)

Re:What Pandemic? (1)

Llywelyn (531070) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402451)

a) That particular pandemic took off in large part because of weakened populations after a war. Plague tends to follow wars.

b) It killed that many people *worldwide*. Localized impact, while potentially still bad, was substantially more distributed than that. Saying that it killed "50 million people" begs the question of "where."

Are you familiar with the Swine Flu Affair? We need to be looking at not just the potential impact of a "Category 5 Pandemic" (1.8+ million dead) but also at the probability of such occurring. Fear mongering and talking about the destruction caused by the Spanish lady without framing it in these terms does everyone a disservice.

Re:What Pandemic? (2, Informative)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402617)

Fear mongering and talking about the destruction caused by the Spanish lady without framing it in these terms does everyone a disservice.

Compared to, say, describing simulations that test a financial institution's ability to function with a partially absent workforce as some sort of conspiracy to distract the masses from politics? Come, now.

As for people being "weakened by war" in 1918... well, sure - that took a toll. But the deaths from that strain were mostly found in people with very HEALTHY immune systems. TOO healthy, as it turns out. The mechanism of death with an immune system response so robust that it, itself, actually killed the victims. As for your take on the numbers: let's say that "only" 5 million deaths out of a 100-million death pandemic were to occur in US cities. That's out of, of course, MANY more millions that would be sick and not die, or absent from work for fear of becoming sick. It's not fear-mongering to confront that scenario and think through how to deal with it, or at least mitigate it.

Re:What Pandemic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20403737)

a) That particular pandemic took off in large part because of weakened populations after a war. Plague tends to follow wars.
Allow me to point out that, as peaceful as everything seems now, a war [yahoo.com] could break out. (Not that I accept your assumption that a war-weakened population was a requirement for a pandemic.)

b) ... Saying that it killed "50 million people" begs the question of "where."
Jeez [begthequestion.info]

Re:What Pandemic? (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402629)

50-100 MILLION people ... vastly more dense population centers ... just-in-time" style economy


I'm gonna go ahead and right Japan off right now.

Re:What Pandemic? (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403339)

The cool thing about that pandemic is that it killed mostly young and healthy BECAUSE they were young and healthy.
Their immune system was strong enough to go completely psycho and essentially dissolve their own cells trying to fight the flu while older people couldn't muster that strong a response.

But you are correct- huge numbers killed. In part because of army camps but today substitute airplanes and cube farms.

We depend on JIT inventory way to heavily.

Re:What Pandemic? (3, Informative)

l-ascorbic (200822) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401731)

I don't think the World Health Organisation is interested in scaremongering and taking the public's mind of domestic politics. Their take: "The risk of pandemic influenza is serious" [who.int].

During past pandemics, attack rates reached 25-35% of the total population. Under the best circumstances, assuming that the new virus causes mild disease, the world could still experience an estimated 2 million to 7.4 million deaths (projected from data obtained during the 1957 pandemic). Projections for a more virulent virus are much higher. The 1918 pandemic, which was exceptional, killed at least 40 million people. In the USA, the mortality rate during that pandemic was around 2.5%.

Think about it.

Re:What Pandemic? (2, Informative)

sane? (179855) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402303)

Google the phrase "cytokine storm" if you don't already know why pandemic flu is different.

Re:What Pandemic? (1)

GreyyGuy (91753) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402593)

Given the hype around Y2K, the environment, and everything else that we have been told is "bad and will happen- it just hasn't happened yet" I can understand that attitude. The problem is that flu pandemics happen, and fairly regularly. The last one was in the early 1900 and killed millions. The bird flu (called that because it starts in birds but has jumped to humans originally though livestock but also through pigeons) might not be the next pandemic, but there will be another one. The bird flu is the current most likely contender for it. HIV/AIDS has killed millions over the course of decades and that is through direct sexual or blood contact. Flus can be transmitted by touching or breathing on someone. Far more transmissible. And the bird flu has a very high, very fast mortality rate.

Given the high mortality rate, the lack of a proven immunization so far, and the far greater amount of international travel, it has the potential to be very deadly.

Re:What Pandemic? (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403231)

Given the hype around Y2K, the environment, and everything else that we have been told is "bad and will happen- it just hasn't happened yet" I can understand that attitude.

Well, Y2K wasn't too bad because companies were panicking. They paid consultants huge sums to patch up their code so they wouldn't go dark come the new year.

Back then I was still working at a store during college, and that company (and my boss) didn't pay any real attention even though their system was very old. The first day we were open after Jan 1st SUCKED. The computers were out, the cash registers were out, the barcode scanners were out. We had power, but the computers were all dead. And of course we don't price individual items.

While that sounds like no big deal, everyone was coming in to buy loads of food, supplies, etc and there were only 3 employees. So we either had to check the shelves for the price of each item until a tech came at noon.

That day sucked so bad it wasn't even funny. I just forget if it was Jan 1st or Jan 2nd 2000.

Quant Question (1)

bloosqr (33593) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401191)

There are 100 firms based in NY with an average of Z traders while only 30 firms (each with an average of W traders) based in SF. Assume the spread factor of a pandemic is \mu. You have a pandemic flu virus at your disposal, what is your winning strategy for basing your headquarters and why?

Followup question (assuming top question was answered correctly:

You have chosen to infect "the other city" with the pandemic flu, estimate how long your competitive advantage will last (assume you have X employees).

Re:Quant Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20403939)

42

Why just Financial Service firms (4, Insightful)

dragonsomnolent (978815) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401203)

Seriously, surely they wouldn't have as great an impact as say food re-distribution. I work for a major food re-distributer and if something knocked out 50% of our warehouse workers and truck drivers, it would certainly trickle down to our customers, I hate to think what would happen if vital services across the country were knocked down to 50% of normal workforce for a long period of time.

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (1)

ohsmeguk (1048214) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401417)

Because we live in a capitolist society. It is the priority of the government to keep the money flowing, otherwise it looses power...

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (2, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401573)

For a slightly less cynical take, how about the fact that financial services can survive if people don't, but the opposite isn't necessarily true.

After 9/11 in NYC, there was a mini panic because the ATM system was down locally for a while. Imagine if it was down for a week or longer. And the local branch is closed because the tellers are out sick. Do you carry enough cash to carry you through the week. Do you even HAVE checks? Many don't.

Also, the Feds maintain some level of control over the financial institutions - if the SEC orders them to do the exercise, they'll do it. Who is going to order food distribution companies to do it? The FDA? Maybe the ICC? Just because planning like this can't be done universally doesn't mean it shouldn't be done locally.

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401643)

We do build a fair number of capitols, but I am not sure that trend really defines our society.

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401501)

Warehouse staff and truck drivers can be replaced fast, by soldiers if need be, to keep distribution moving (if your government has a clue (not sure about this) it has a pretty detailed plan for this). Day traders are more difficult to replace at short notice. And before someone questions the neccessity of the latter over the former, try buying food when your pension fund just went belly up.

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403257)

According to a quick google there are ~3.4 million truckers in the US. There are also 1.4 million active duty military personnel.

What this means that if there were an pandemic flu, and 30% of everybody were unable to work, even if every single non-sick member of the military were put to work driving trucks (generals, intelligence, computer specialists, etc.) they'd only just be able to keep the number of truckers constant. Now when you take into account that a large portion of the military isn't in the US, and the fact that it takes a while to learn to handle a big rig, I don't think the military is going to be able to take over trucking in the event of a pandemic.

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20404339)

Day traders are more difficult to replace at short notice. And before someone questions the neccessity of the latter over the former, try buying food when your pension fund just went belly up.

Day traders [sec.gov] could all drop dead and the financial markets would probably function better and certainly more smoothly.

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401507)

Thank goodness 50% of your customers will be out of commision too! There's always a silver lining :)

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402441)

Thank goodness 50% of your customers will be out of commision too!

Yeah, but it will be the nice 50%. You'll have super concentrated a-hole customers left over. ;)

Re:Why just Financial Service firms (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402745)

My HS history teacher used to say that the best way to start major civil unrest in the US was to organize a trucker strike.

Once food stops showing up in grocery stores people get fighting mad awful quick.

sounds incomplete (4, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401317)

I think there's two further aspects to model here. First, what happens when people are sick, but show up anyway? Do the companies have policies in place to force these people home and will bosses and employees respect these policies? Second, do they have liability protection in case an employee (say a boss) forces people to show up and those people (or their families and many friends) get sick and possibly die? For example, if a boss forces a sick employee to stay in the department or forces an employee to come in (apparently the safest place you can be is to stay for a few weeks in a well-ventilated home or apartment with no contact with the outside world, showing up for work puts you at some risk, especially if you use public transportation or enter a public area like a store, say to pay for gas), there is the potential for the company to become liable for a large number of deaths, not just from the employees but also from the people they could infect down the road.

Re:sounds incomplete (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20401451)

That is the crappiest problem. The lower paid you are the more a chance the boss will fier you if you do not come in even if you are puking.

Now, most resturant workers are FORCED to work if sick. So your food more than likely is handled by a sick person.

They want to fix this? make it a law that peanizes a boss for having a sick employee working or threatening an employee with termination for not coming in. Make it a $10,000 fine and these shitheads will stop this.

Yes I just called managers that make workers come in sick SHITHEADS.

Re:sounds incomplete (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20401773)

It's even weirder than that. My organization has policies in place, including issuing surgical masks to employees to wear during work. When questioned about why N95 masks wouldn't be issued (seeing as they are proven to be more effective), I was told that, since N95's are technically respirators, special training would need to be given, and we don't have the resources. Else we were open to liability if someone with asthma or a heart condition dies. So I say, "well, that's fine, but I'm wearing my own N95"

Actual response: "You will be sent home, or disciplined if you refuse, on the grounds of wearing inapprpriate clothing, the same as if you came in wearing just a jockstrap. We can't afford to have other employees seeing you with better respiratory equipment and asking why you are wearing it and not them. It opens us up to liability of not providing proper equipment"

So they are unwilling to be sued for a random heart attack, but are wiling to be liable for an unlawful termination suit from me and hundreads, if not thousands, of negligence suits from everyone in the organization who dies while not wearing an surgical mask provided by their employer, which is known to be inadequate protection.

Fucking pussies.
(Posted AC because I think someone will figure out who I am - I actually do like my job, just not some of the idiots I work with)

Re:sounds incomplete (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402609)

Hell no they don't.

They'll probably let you go home if you're sick, but a shocking percentage of workers think they'll get chastized/fired if they miss work due to genuine illness..and some companies do this.

Some companies require a fucking doctor's note or they'll count each absense against you. That's at least $20 every time you're out, or else..and standing in line with a bunch of other sick people, etc.

Re:sounds incomplete (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403407)

Luckily I'm a small shop, so when one of my guys is sick, I tell them to go home and not to come back until they're feeling well. If they don't have sick leave, I'll cover it to keep the office healthy. Then again, I'm not on much of a critical path for human services (Oh my god, who's going to design that building if we're not around!). I can afford to lose one of my employees for a week - losing the whole staff would put a crimp in the company finances (to put it mildly).

Re:sounds incomplete (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402707)

showing up for work puts you at some risk, especially if you use public transportation or enter a public area like a store, say to pay for gas
Whew, good thing I live in NJ, where we're not allowed to pump our own gas and therefore almost no stores have inside-the-store payment capability. It's nice to know that come the flupocalypse, NJ's air (especially around the gas stations) will be among the most disease-free of any state.

/snicker

Preparation isn't a waste of time (5, Interesting)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401327)

I work for a Very Large Charitable Organization in facilities construction, and our group has gotten involved in some of the pandemic flu planning. There are some truly frightening scenarios out there, from "Really Bad Flu Season", through "1918, Part II", to TEOTWAWKI.

The part where some of it hit home for me was when a coworker, who is our resident disaster junkie/survivalist, came back from his first panflu planning meeting. Normally he comes back from meetings grumbling that no one is taking a problem seriously. This time he was concerned that he himself hadn't been taking it seriously enough, and I've been to his bunker site!

Currently in Indonesia the mortality rate for bird flu cases is around 50%, and they are starting to see human to human transmission. If the lethality of the virus survives the mutation to a strain more transmissible between humans, one can assume that it will infect about 25% of the world populace - that was 1918 numbers, it will probably be more now with easy international travel and higher density in the cities.

So, if you sit in a pod of 8 cubicles, here's the breakdown (1918 transmissibility, current lethality)

1 of you is dead
1 of you is permanently disabled, or out for months of recovery

So now your workforce is reduced by 25% - oh, wait, 2 of you will also be out caring for sick loved ones, so that's half gone. And medical personnel are basically gone - they have been exposed multiple times and are either dead, sick, or not going to work because they don't want to become either (btw, that's not my projection, that's from the CDC).

Vaccine? Indonesia is not giving samples to international health authorities, for fears that any vaccine developed will be too expensive for them to afford (not a paranoid assumption)

Conclusion: Go buy some N95 masks and gloves (both cheap) and just pay a little attention. Neitehr will go to waste - use the gloves for working on cars and the masks for wood shop. And just pay attention.

Re:Preparation isn't a waste of time (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402835)

So now your workforce is reduced by 25% - oh, wait, 2 of you will also be out caring for sick loved ones, so that's half gone
Meh. Your math is off, since those sets intersect.

If 25% get infected, and 25% need to care for sick loved ones, you're talking about 43.75% reduction in workforce, not 50%.

Doomsayer. Way to blow it out of proportion with your fuzzy maths and your nice round numbers.

Seriously, though, 25% or 50% reduction in workforce, it doesn't matter -- the economy will be crippled. Don't forget that even at 25% reduction, you also need to consider the extra workload of dealing with suppliers/customers/etc that are also understaffed. This effect snowballs among interconnected organizations until the collapse is economy-wide.

I wouldn't bother investing in N95 masks and gloves. I'd invest in farming equipment, seed stocks, and livestock shares.

Re:Preparation isn't a waste of time (1)

FrankSchwab (675585) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402933)

Unfortunately, an N95 mask isn't going to help: http://www.ph.ucla.edu/EPI/bioter/n95masks.html [ucla.edu]

Re:Preparation isn't a waste of time (2, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403641)

Did you even read your own link?

"Although anthrax spores and smallpox aren't paint chips, the masks do provide protection against bioterrorism, since the most likely used bacterium would be dispersed in particle form, Utgoff says. In fact, the anthrax mail attacks first spotlighted the N95, as office mailrooms scurried for protective gear.

The N95 is made by various manufacturers under different names, from MSA's "Affinity Foldable Respirator" to 3M's "Particulate Respirator." Look for "NIOSH N95" on the package; the "N95" is a government efficiency rating that means the mask blocks about 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size or larger.

The N95 rating meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for protection against tuberculosis and anthrax spores, as well as the most foreseeable bioweaponry, which ranges in size from 1.0 to 5.0 microns. So the N95s are more than capable of preventing their inhalation."

The flu virus comes under those sizes as well. The rest of the articcle points out the masks shortcomings for other attacks, and errors in useage, but this topic is flu, and using ANY equipment improperly is a first class ticket to the Darwin's.

Just in tie for 911 (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401545)

"The U.S. Government is co-sponsoring a three-week exercise that will simulate..."

I really don't trust our government doing simulations anymore.

you are expendable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20401631)

We happened to notice in the last pandemic simulation that you are completely expendable.... so please assume the role of a dead person. (no severance package)

Why are you assuming people are going to work? (3, Insightful)

Puls4r (724907) | more than 6 years ago | (#20401961)

I originally posted some of this as a reply to someone else, but I've seen so many folks posting things under the same assumption that I wanted to make a more generalized response.

Who, in their right mind, seeing 1/3 of the population dieing around them, in their houses, etc, is going to be going to work? Hospital workers will be dead. Military folks are not going to respond to being called-back, and frankly the close living quarters of the military is the best for spreading it around the force.

Folks, picture this. Your next door neighbor dies. The next day, co-workers start dieing. Are you going to go back to work?

Why are these "simulations" so naive that they believe folks will continue to work, rather than staying with their families? I'm not exactly and end-of-days kind of guys, but the folks on here discussing people telecommuting to work are insane. If half the people in the country are going to be dieing or caring for dieing folks, people aren't going to be worrying about how many strawberries are picked, cows are slaughtered, cars are made, or stocks are traded.

Re:Why are you assuming people are going to work? (1)

rcw-work (30090) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402923)

Folks, picture this. Your next door neighbor dies. The next day, co-workers start dieing. Are you going to go back to work?

Because of the time delay. You'll be symptom-free for a day or two after the initial infection and your doomed coworkers won't die for several more days. Are you really likely to figure out that this is the next pandemic flu before your coworkers expose you to it?

Re:Why are you assuming people are going to work? (1)

Frozen Void (831218) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403105)

If people we're so attached civilization wouldn't exist. Someone has to do the job, especially if its vital to society.

Agree: all will stay home. See SARS in Toronto (1)

KWTm (808824) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403699)

When SARS struck Hong Kong, the effect in Toronto (Ontario) was considerable, as there is a significant population that travels between Hong Kong and Toronto. All the streets were dead, and you wouldn't see anyone walking the usually crowded downtown streets. (Well, there were a few, but a tiny fraction of the number.) Retail business drooped, and in fact some Chinese places (especially restaurants) went belly-up due to lack of income.

The majority of these people who stayed home weren't having symptoms. They just didn't want to start getting symptoms.

Re:Why are you assuming people are going to work? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#20404203)

Who, in their right mind, seeing 1/3 of the population dieing around them, in their houses, etc, is going to be going to work?

Actually - it's the people who don't go back to work are not in their right minds. No matter what happens, if I don't have that paycheck I don't have a house, car, or food.
 
 

Military folks are not going to respond to being called-back, and frankly the close living quarters of the military is the best for spreading it around the force.

Military folks are not going to respond the call back? Not any of the (many, many) military folks I know. So far as living in close quarters goes, I imagine they'll do the same thing they did when the flu swept through my unit - anyone symptomatic, suspected of being symptomatic, or suspected of being exposed were quarantined. The rest of us went about our duties. It worked in that case, and may not work in the event of a pandemic - but the military has thought about the problem and will do it's level best.
 
 

Why are these "simulations" so naive that they believe folks will continue to work, rather than staying with their families?

Because there is no evidence to assume outright that people will, en masse, simply sit down and wait for their turn. In general, people are much more resilient than you seem to give them credit for.
 
 

If half the people in the country are going to be dieing or caring for dieing folks, people aren't going to be worrying about how many strawberries are picked, cows are slaughtered, cars are made, or stocks are traded.

If I'm not dead or dying - I care. I care like hell. If strawberries and beef don't make it to market, I starve. If at least some consumer goods aren't manufactured and distributed my already disrupted lifestyle will be even worse. If utilities aren't maintained, especially in winter, my very life could be in danger from the climate here. If stocks aren't traded, my financial future (already cloudy from the pandemic) becomes noticeably worse.

Knock on effects (1)

sane? (179855) | more than 6 years ago | (#20402229)

One of the major problems in these types of simulation are that no knock on effects are simulated. The assumption is made that people will continue to come into work and will indeed work to someone else's plan. In reality people will look after themselves and their family, which will mean closing the door and staying at home. Work will be unimportant; who would seriously take that degree of risk for a meagre salary.

At our rough calculations the transition from business as usual to total shutdown will take two week max. As soon as the threat is recognised by the populous as real, people will react to save themselves.

Expect the various waves of pandemic flu to take a minimum of six months to run their course

The Stand (2, Funny)

Copperfield (1117631) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403567)

I'm not worried. I'm certain that I am immune to Captain Trips. Which city I end up going to, is another matter entirely.

THEY'RE EEEEVIIILLL, I tells ya!!! (1, Troll)

siglercm (6059) | more than 6 years ago | (#20403789)

See, that corrupt Bush administration is up to their _evil_ tricks again!!! I can't believe the guile of that band of crooks! How dare they... subvert the freedom of... the average American... financial services client.... Preparing the country for... a biological cri... crisis....

Sorry, habit, never mind.

biosecurity simulation based decision making (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20404125)

Biosecurity simulation based decision making is recieving a lot of funding in the US. See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alok_Chaturvedi [wikipedia.org] and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_for_Biosecurit y [wikipedia.org]

Simulex Inc. is a modeling and simulation company located in Purdue Technology Park.[2] Its main sources of income are the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp.. It was established in 1999 by Alok Chaturvedi and Shailendra Raj Mehta.[3]

Simulex Inc. creates synthetic decision situations using the SEAS technology developed at Purdue University in conjunction with funding from the National Science Foundation, Intel, 21st Century Fund, Office of Naval Research and other agencies. The technology recreates situations using human and artificial agents. It populates it with real data then allows data mining, decision support, forecasting, scenario planning and strategy planning. Millions of artificial agents represent behaviors (buying behavior of consumers, movement of trucks, contamination after a bio-terror attack, etc.) and hundreds of human players can make decisions (regarding production, advertising, recruiting, etc.) all in a real time, web-enabled, interactive environment.[3]

Why financial services? (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 6 years ago | (#20404447)

If a real flu pandemic came I'd be a lot more worried about water, electricity/gas and food than how my stocks are doing. Have they already done these simulations or are we getting more like the Golgafrinchams?
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