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State Technology Chief Discusses Preparations for Flu Pandemic

The state's technology point man is urging agencies to develop contingency plans in the event that a swine flu pandemic immobilizes a large portion of the state's workforce.

Florida has been hit particularly hard with the swine flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has had 2,915 confirmed cases and 23 deaths. Only California, New York and Texas have had more deaths. And The Associated Press reported recently that the state epidemiologist predicted that 5 million Floridians could contract the swine flu within a year if the virus follows the pattern of previous pandemics.

“Seeing no illness is out of the question,” said Florida's Chief Information Officer Scott McPherson. “The virus has triumphed everywhere.”

McPherson was chairing the Chief Information Officers Council's Pandemic Workforce to spur conversation among state entities about how they would release information through the Web and keep state government running if the flu takes out a third of the workers.

Some agencies have thorough plans, others have some plans in place, and a few are still just talking about what needs to be done.

Matthew Gregory, a Department of Management Services employee, told the panel that DMS has had a telecommuting plan in place since the early 1990s. The plan was originally an employee driven operation, so that if DMS workers were sick or needed to attend to their kids, they could work from their homes.

But he warned other agencies that they need to start working on these plans now, so they can test them and work out the kinks before an emergency situation.

“Telecommuting is not an on-off switch,” Gregory said.

The Florida Supreme Court put out a plan on how to keep the court system functioning a few months ago when the flu first broke out. It had been adapted from one developed in 2006 when avian flu was a bigger concern. The report produced by the court envisions hearings throughout the system being held by video conference if personal contact needed to be limited.

“Technology is vital in order to maintain operations in a pandemic,” the report reads.

The Supreme Court also ordered in May that ongoing emergency preparedness planning continue throughout the year so that the court can adapt to unexpected emergencies.

McPherson said agencies will be assessing their readiness and asked them to consider how much Web maintenance they can do if a third of the staff is sick and how much cross training needs to take place.

The working group will meet again shortly after Labor Day, McPherson said. Meanwhile, interested parties can go to the council's Web site on pandemic information at http://www.bpr.state.fl.us/pandemic/.

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