The World Health Organization recently elevated the H1N1 epidemic to “pandemic” status, meaning the virus has spread across every continent and still presents significant risks to public health. Few people realize that nearly half of all the H1N1 cases being tracked are right here in the U.S. We’re focused on things like washing our hands more often, but as employers and individuals, are we prepared for what happens next?
The problem is we don’t yet know what will be asked of us.
It is precisely for situations like these – in the time before an event like a pandemic escalates further and creates a series of challenges that happen in rapid succession – that employers draft formal business continuity plans.
Increasingly, companies are finding that teleworking is an essential tool in preparing for, and recovering from, a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster. Whether it is “home-based” or “remote-office based,” teleworking moves the work to the employee, rather than moving the employee to the work, which, in the event of a pandemic, can help prevent the spread of health risks.
Situations like the current swine flu pandemic have happened before. During the SARS breakout of 2003, many Hong Kong and Montreal based firms opted for teleworking to conduct “business as usual,” thereby minimizing human contact while still working closely with customers. In fact, SARS was a catalyst for many businesses that are integrating teleworking into their business continuity plans as a means of “social distancing” while operating critical functions within the organization.
Implementation Steps for Disaster Preparedness
Every employer is unique in the needs and considerations that must go into planning, but the key to business continuity is emergency preparedness, which entails having a program in place that has been tested prior to the emergency and an advocate that can champion the program. Consider these issues:
- Gaining support from all levels of management. Management will need to know how telework would impact productivity and the bottom line.
- Knowing which employees could work from home or a remote location. Some jobs may not seem appropriate for teleworking at first, but in an emergency, all employees may need to work from home or another location.
- Locating alternative facilities where employees could work. If your building becomes inaccessible, all work may need to be performed from an alternate location.
- Determining equipment needs and resources. At a minimum, you need to determine the types of equipment necessary for employees to accomplish their work. This can vary for each employee or work unit.
- Developing remote access to office files. Teleworkers may need access to information and software to perform tasks. Some companies have back up files stored off-site, which can be accessed in an emergency.
- Training employees and managers on teleworking procedures. Businesses have found that employees with prior teleworking training are able to respond quicker and more effectively to unexpected circumstances.
- Establishing a teleworking pilot program and monitoring results. A well-rehearsed plan is important to ensure your business can respond to a crisis. A pilot program for select employees can help polish your emergency teleworking procedures.
Lessons Learned From Recent Disasters
Employers that have had to put their business continuity plans into motion offer this wisdom:
- The telecommunications infrastructure may be more robust than the roadway infrastructure.
- Investments in technology and back-up systems are the backbone of many recovery programs.
- Pre-planning and testing of the plan are the key to quick recovery.
Employers can learn more about what makes a solid business continuity plan when they attend The Clean Air Campaign’s next Lunch and Learn event on telework, the telework tax credit and the role of telework in business continuity planning on July 16.
A new marketing survey finds commuters in "The City Too Busy to Hate" have ample time to project anger towards each other as they jockey for position on the region's congested roadways.
Atlanta, the genteel metropolis where people say "hey" and open the door for one other, checks in at #4 on the list of cities with the least courteous drivers, behind New York, Dallas and Detroit. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Portland, Oregon, topped the rankings as the most courteous city for motorists.
The worst part is that Atlanta moved up on the list, from 6th in 2008. Guess lots of the 84% of commuters in the region who drive alone each day need to smooth out some anger issues.
How did we go from bad to worse? A few thoughts:
1. Population growth has brought a million new residents to metro Atlanta in the past decade, and the region expects to add another two million people by 2030. We're fighting for our "personal space" on a crowded transportation network that projects to grow even more crowded. And we're not happy about it.
2. We're not paying attention to what we're doing because we're preoccupied with multi-tasking, talking on the phone or texting. Of the 24 cities participating in the survey, Atlanta was the city most likely to see other commuters slam on their brakes at the last minute.
3. We're short on patience because we're always running late due to delay from traffic (which burns up 60 hours a year for the average metro ATL commuter). This shows up in the finding that Atlanta is second-most likely to see other commuters run through red lights on a daily basis or change lanes without warning.
What can we do to suppress some of the asphalt angst we fling at our fellow commuters?
Here's an idea: next time you're behind the wheel and that vein pops out of your neck because the dummy in front of you just swerved into your lane and cut you off, share a laugh about it with your carpool partner. Or, tuck away that middle finger and thank your lucky stars you don't have to do battle in traffic the next day because you're working a compressed workweek. Or, ease up on the horn and make a mental note to ask your employer about getting a discounted transit pass.
Maybe these are the things the happy commuters do in Portland.
Next week is a great week to shake up the routine a little in your daily commute. The Clean Air Campaign, together with Clark Howard and the crew at 750 AM WSB and the region's local Transportation Management Associations, want you to pick a day next week to give your car the day off. Last year, some 1,300 metro Atlanta commuters pledged to do it (when gas prices rose above $4 last year, it's easy to see why). This year, let's raise the bar! You can sign up here to take part.
Need a little motivation to participate this go around? Here are five great reasons to give your car the day off:
- Every mile you drive alone is costing you 54 cents. That adds up over time, especially in Atlanta, which is recognized as one of the most expensive areas for commuters nationwide. Did you know the average metro ATL household spends more than $8,000 a year on transportation costs? That's more than we spend on food.
- You can get more done when you're not behind the wheel. With an average commute time in the region of 36 minutes each way, we're all looking for ways to be more productive. Why not hop on an Xpress bus or carpool and read a book or catch up on e-mail?
- Half of all smog-forming emissions come from the tailpipes of cars and trucks. That's a major factor in the number of days we experience when air quality is deemed unhealthy for outdoor activity. Fewer tailpipes is good for the air we breathe. Try carpooling. If you need help finding a person to share the ride, The Clean Air Campaign can direct you to RideSmart, a division of the Atlanta Regional Commission that runs a service to match commuters who live and work near each other.
- Not having to drive means less stress from the grind of traffic and the "unpredictable actions" of other commuters who are competing for space on the roads. You don't have to get worked up about the dummy who zooms past you and changes lanes without signaling when you're teleworking.
- When you leave your car in the driveway and choose a different way to get to work, you're not using up as much energy. Try MARTA. They're also supporting an event next week -- on Thursday, June 18 -- called "Dump the Pump." We all remember how exasperating it was last year to shell out big bucks for gas. It's still painful to pay $2.50 a gallon. Try an alternative so you don't need to fill up the tank as often.
Giving your car the day off one day next week is just a starting point, of course. We want you to do it once in hopes that you'll consider doing it more often. There are more than 350,000 commuters across town who have come to enjoy alternatives to driving alone. We need more to accomplish our mission of less traffic and cleaner air.
In metro Atlanta, 84% of commuters drive alone to and from work on a maxed out road network. We’re chided as the most expensive city for commuters in the entire nation as we stew in traffic for an average of 72 minutes a day roundtrip. There’s no question we need more infrastructure, transit, sustainable funding sources and focused leadership to meet the mobility needs of a growing region. But even with new funding, it will take a decade or more to bring new projects out of the ground. What we need NOW is to make the best use of the existing options we have.
That got us thinking, “what if we could show the impact that taking cars off the road can have on traffic?” We know that on bank holidays, it’s much easier to get to work, despite the fact that only a small percentage of cars are not on the roads. If more commuters chose not to drive alone, what could that do to traffic congestion? The Clean Air Campaign and our partners came up with a neat way to express that idea visually.
We created a series of simulated traffic photos. Check them out here. Here’s how we did it: Last fall, a photographer scaled a fence on the 10th Street overpass straddling the Downtown Connector during morning rush hour to shoot a picture of typical Atlanta traffic (she nearly got arrested trying to get the perfect shot). A week later, our staff and partners met in an empty parking lot in Buckhead and set up a bunch of folding chairs:
We arranged them on the blacktop in configurations that accurately portray the number of seats in a typical carpool, vanpool and commuter bus. We sat in the chairs and modeled for the camera as the photographer snapped photos from atop a scissor lift. Then, the images were painstakingly cleaned up in PhotoShop and merged into the original traffic photo of the Downtown Connector.
The concept has become a mainstay in The Clean Air Campaign’s presentations to employers and commuters. In just a few images, we can explain what we’re trying to accomplish. The best part is that many of our colleagues and partners sat in those chairs and helped make the project possible. How much longer until the concept of these photos becomes more of a reality? That’s up to you.