Financial services companies should promote good personal hygiene and the infrastructure for shifting work to employees’ homes now, before a severe influenza pandemic strikes.
D. Scott Parsons, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department, gave that message today at a hearing on pandemic preparedness that was organized by the oversight subcommittee of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.
Preparing for a severe pandemic, or international epidemic, is forcing financial services companies to change the way they think about business continuity, Parsons said, according to a written version of his remarks.
Experts have estimated that a severe flu pandemic could cause absence rates of 30% to 50% in many different areas of the world for extended periods.
“A firm cannot simply move to out of region back-up facilities and restore operations because it is likely those facilities are also experiencing challenges associated with the pandemic,” Parsons said.
The Treasury Department and emergency preparedness agencies have tried to prepare by holding a “tabletop exercise” with a coalition of Florida financial services companies and related public and private organizations, Parsons said.
The department is planning to hold similar exercises with financial services coalitions in markets such as Houston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Southern California, Parsons said.
One lesson that the Treasury Department has learned is that encouraging hand washing and other simple steps to prevent the spread of disease should start now, not during a pandemic, Parsons said.
Experts say financial services companies also should consider stockpiling masks, gloves and antiviral agents, and coming up with strategies for identifying and isolating employees who may be sick.
Employers also should be cross training workers so that workers can handle multiple jobs; identifying jobs that can be performed at home; and making sure that internal information technology can support employees who work from home, Parsons said.