Following the outbreaks of SARS and Avian Flu earlier this decade, Sprint Nextel has taken the threat of a global flu pandemic very seriously. And in 2005, the company created a special group within its Emergency Incident Management team to plan what to do in such an emergency.
On Friday, it started posting information and updates on its internal Web site for employees. And by Monday, when the virus had started showing up in dozens of cases in the U.S., the company restricted travel to Mexico.
It also asked any employees going to El Paso, Texas, or anywhere else near the Mexican border to notify the company. But Sprint, which has only one call center in Mexico, has not closed any facilities yet.
Sprint Nextel is not the only large company to have developed a flu pandemic contingency plan. Several large technology companies, including Microsoft, General Electric, IBM, and Dell already have plans in place.
At least initially many companies are focusing on keeping employees healthy by restricting travel and encouraging workers in affected areas to work from home. But as the threat level rises, so will their reactions to situation. For example, Sprint is now considering whether to sanitize call centers and offices in regions where the virus has been identified or whether it should eliminate face-to-face meetings with employees who are living in regions where the swine flu has already shown up.
"With the alert level rising, we are having a lot of conference calls to decide what to do," said Crystal Davis, a Sprint spokeswoman and a member of Sprint's Emergency Incident Management team.
Microsoft has also activated its incident management team, which responds to various types of diseases, natural disasters and other emergencies.
"We're following the guidance from the Mexican government as far as our offices and employees," said Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz. "We are strongly encouraging everyone to work from home. The Mexico City office is open, but we are asking folks only to go in if it is absolutely necessary."
Global conglomerate GE has already decided to restrict employees to essential travel only to Mexico and it has updated its existing contingency plans to deal with a potentially larger impact from the swine flu, according to a representative.
I think this is going a bit to far. While it is the flu, there's no reason to treat it as an Ebola outbreak.