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## Financial Services Firms Simulate Flu Pandemic150

Posted by Zonk
from the a-bit-of-government-cheer dept.
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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## Financial Services Firms Simulate Flu Pandemic

• #### How useful is that? (Score:5, Funny)

<edward,j,reddy&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:15PM (#20400827) Journal
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? (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:37PM (#20401147) Homepage Journal
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? (Score:4, Insightful)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:41PM (#20401195) Journal
> participants will gather in conference rooms

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

• #### Re: (Score:2)

So you'd rather they didn't even think about it?
• #### Re:How useful is that? (Score:5, Informative)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:28PM (#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? (Score:5, Insightful)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @03:19PM (#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? (Score:4, Insightful)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @03:52PM (#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.
• #### Re: (Score:2)

Stephen? I mean... Mr King? is that you?
• #### Re: (Score:3, Funny)

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.
--
She was like chocolate when she drank... semi-sweet at first and then increasingly bitter.

I can't help but to have a single mental image drawn from both your message and your sig.

Eww.
• #### Re: (Score:2)

So... you'd like them to do real-world testing of a flu pandemic...?
• #### Re: (Score:2)

Almost. I'd respect the results more if they did real-world simulation of a pandemic. ( Sort of like paintball is a real-world simulation of a firefight; it tells you a whole lot more about warfare than a bunch of people sitting around a conference table speculating. ) All that needs to be done is to tell certain randomly chosen people to pretend to be sick and to stop working. See how things function.
It turns out that someone has actually done this. http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=282747&cid=2 [slashdot.org]
• #### Flu (Score:2, Funny)

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? (Score:4, Informative)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @03:06PM (#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.
• #### Re: (Score:2)

No dount, there's some sort of spray on sterilizer compatible more or less with electronics. And you can always bathe the keyboards in isopropyl alcohol and water.
• #### Did a test like this years ago (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:17PM (#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: (Score:3, Funny)

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."
• #### Re: (Score:3, Funny)

And I'd also keep a spare closing tag just in case I run out...
• #### Re: (Score:2)

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: (Score:3, Insightful)

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: (Score:2)

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: (Score:2)

Then this was not a test like this. In the test discussed here, nobody goes home. The execs just get together and guess what would happend if those employees didn't show up to work, while the employees themselves continue working.
• #### Simulation we REALLY need to run (Score:4, Funny)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:21PM (#20400909) Homepage Journal
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!
• #### Re: (Score:2)

For those who haven't heard it...

Re: Your Brains [jonathancoulton.com] by Jonathan Coulton.

Truly, an anthem for the modern age.
• #### Wha? (Score:3, Funny)

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: (Score:2)

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: (Score:2)

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.
• #### Re: (Score:2)

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

Mny of the big corporates would do just fine. OTOH if the zombies were wiped out they'd lose 80% of their current workforce.

• #### What Pandemic? (Score:3, Interesting)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:36PM (#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? (Score:5, Informative)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:48PM (#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? (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:20PM (#20401819)
• #### Re: (Score:2)

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: (Score:2, Funny)

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: (Score:2)

It doesn't take that much to keep food coming.
• #### Re: (Score:2)

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 probabili

• #### Re: (Score:3, Informative)

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 immun
• #### Re: (Score:2)

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: (Score:2)

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: (Score:2)

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.

No air travel, but as the article below points out, we did have rail travel, and we had WWI -- which helped incubate a far more serious strain of influenza than we might other wise have had: http://www.washingtonpo [washingtonpost.com]

• #### Politicians Exploiting Real Risks (Score:2)

Of course it's possible that another pandemic-capable flu strain will evolve, even though the Bush Administration doesn't believe in Darwinian Evolution. (Some of their descriptions of pandemic flu evolution have been pretty close to Lysenkoism, worrying about how little the flu will have to change itself to be acquire the ability to pass from human to human, but that's a separate problem.)

I can't say that this has never been what the Pandemic Flu scares were about, because early on there were some serious

• #### Re: (Score:2)

You don't see the same constant consistent warnings about Hurricane Preparedness

Oh please. Among other things, my firm consults on disaster recovery. Many of our (east coast, in particular) customers work with us specifically with weather-related disruptions in mind (hurricanes, blizzards, etc). Off site backups, telecommuting through portals hosted at data centers, etc. They are only just now beginning to ask themselves how they'd function if a large percentage of their employees were either sick or wor
• #### Re: (Score:2)

My firm does disaster-recovery consulting as well, though since I'm in California my customers are more likely to care about earthquakes than the hardware failures or router bugs or hurricanes that our East Coast product developers are more likely to focus on, and after Katrina hit there was a lot of exploration of which carriers had infrastructure in New Orleans. (And of course after 9/11 hit most large businesses, especially New York financials, got a much different perspective on their DR issues.)

But th

• #### Re:What Pandemic? (Score:4, Informative)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:15PM (#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%.

• #### Re: (Score:3, Informative)

Google the phrase "cytokine storm" if you don't already know why pandemic flu is different.
• #### Re: (Score:2)

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 curr
• #### Quant Question (Score:2)

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).
• #### Why just Financial Service firms (Score:4, Insightful)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:42PM (#20401203) Homepage
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: (Score:2)

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: (Score:2)

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
• #### Re: (Score:2)

We also have reserves and a National Guard, but you are essentially right. Then again, keeping trucking at 70-80% capacity as opposed to 40-50% capacity is more of the goal--no one is expecting a national emergency to be easy to live through. Most likely we'll have to institute rationing programs--which means fewer trucks carrying DVDs and iPods and more trucks carrying food products.
• #### nonsense (Score:2)

Nonsense. You can live without a stock market for six months. Try doing the same thing with your food supply. Having said that, I see no obvious reason that the stock market has to close (aside from possible short term anti-panic measures). Just transition it all online to greatly reduce person to person interaction.
• #### Re: (Score:2)

Thank goodness 50% of your customers will be out of commision too! There's always a silver lining :)
• #### Re: (Score:2)

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: (Score:2)

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 (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:49PM (#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 (Score:4, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:17PM (#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: (Score:2)

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.

Working...