(CIDRAP Source Weekly Briefing) – Your company is preparing for a pandemic, but your employees aren’t. Can that possibly make sense?Companies have their reasons for hesitating to communicate with employees about a possible future pandemic. The four reasons I hear most often:Companies don’t want to scare people.Companies don’t have their ducks in a row yet.Getting anybody to listen is hard.There’s nothing for employees to do anyway.I want to respond here to #4. The fact is you actually need employees to do the following before a pandemic begins.You need employees to know that influenza pandemics are unpredictableThe next pandemic may start tomorrow, or it may not come for years. When it comes, it may be so mild we’ll wonder why we worried, or so severe we’ll think all our preparations were for naught. Preparedness starts with resilience; it is mostly about getting ready for the unexpected.You need employees to prepare at homeCompanies have a deep continuity stake in their employees’ home pandemic preparedness. The value of masks and hand sanitizers in the workplace goes way down if employees don’t have them or don’t use them at home. An employee who gets the flu on the bus will be lost to the company as surely as one who gets the flu at work. Healthy employees are likelier to come to work in a pandemic if they believe their families are adequately prepared and adequately protected. Helping your employees get ready at home is thus a major piece of helping your company have a workforce when the pandemic comes.You need employees to prepare at workNo matter where your company stands in the endless tug-of-war between centralization and decentralization of operations, manufacturing, sales and marketing, and other functions, a serious pandemic will be a big-time decentralizer. To a greater extent than you’re probably planning for, facilities, departments, and small local work groups will be on their own. Just as your supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, your company’s ability to cope internally will depend on local and even individual preparedness.I sometimes ask clients who seek my advice on something other than pandemic risk communication what they’re doing to get ready for a pandemic. Usually I’m assured that somebody is looking into that. “But what about you?” I ask. “What’s your role in the company’s pandemic preparedness?” I’m not hearing many answers yet.You need employees to prepare emotionallyGetting ready for a crisis is as much about emotional preparedness as logistical preparedness. When people first become aware of a terrifying new threat, they normally go through what’s called an adjustment reaction. They imagine what the crisis might be like, rehearsing some of what they will probably feel when the time comes. People who have gone through their adjustment reaction before a crisis can cope much better than people who go through this unavoidable stage belatedly, while the crisis is raging.You need employees to know how your company has preparedIf you expect them to implement your pandemic plan when the time comes, then employees need to know about it beforehand. At the very least, they need to know that you have one. Employees are also much likelier to come to work in a pandemic if they know what sort of preparations have been made in their workplace.You need employees to help your company prepareRead the New York Academy of Medicine report, “Redefining Readiness: Terror Planning Through the Eyes of the Public,” by Roz D. Lasker, MD.Her 2004 study convincingly demonstrates that most government terrorism-response plans are close to useless because they were developed without significant citizen involvement. Lasker asked people how they would react in specified terrorism scenarios. They told her they wouldn’t react the way planners thought they would. And then they told her how the plans had to change. Many company pandemic plans have the same fatal defect: insufficient employee involvement.You need employees to see you as a useful source of pandemic informationAfter the virus hits the fan, pandemic information (and misinformation) will be everywhere. Competition for your employees’ attention will be fierce. Now is the time to establish in their minds that your company is a relevant and reliable supplement to official sources of pandemic information. When planning your pandemic preparedness messaging, then, consider this important question: What should you say now that will predispose employees to listen to what you have to say then? Suppose you put out messages now that sound extremely confident and extremely reassuring about the state of your preparedness, for example. If a pandemic begins and turns out much tougher than you predicted, you will already have forfeited much of your credibility with employees.You need employees to think through their conflicting pandemic responsibilitiesIn a severe pandemic, healthy employees will face a crucial dilemma: come to work or stay home. Nobody knows how anybody (your employees included) will resolve this dilemma when the time comes to face it. But we do know that thinking about the dilemma in advance will help.The issue isn’t just about getting paid, although pandemic pay policies are an important component of prepandemic communication. It’s about conflicting responsibilities and conflicting loyalties to self, family, and employer. How empathically you acknowledge this dilemma now will have a lot to do with whether you still have a workforce when a pandemic arrives.You need employees to cross-train for their emergency duty stationsShips at sea have an emergency duty station for every member of the crew; stewards aren’t stewards when the ship catches fire. The same should be true for business pandemic planning. You have to shift your focus from continuity planning to discontinuity planning—prioritizing which few functions are so crucial that your company will sacrifice everything else to keep them going, even in a severe pandemic. Once you’ve done your discontinuity planning, you can start cross-training employees for their emergency duty stations. Among other benefits, people are far more likely to come to work to help manage the emergency than to do their routine jobs.You need employees to volunteerVolunteerism is a defining characteristic of crisis situations. Millions of people respond to emergencies by wanting to help. And pandemic survivors will be uniquely qualified to help: They will be closer to immune than anyone else. Nobody knows what the next pandemic’s case-fatality rate will be, but the horrific 1918 pandemic killed 2% to 3% of those who got sick. That means upwards of 97% of people who became infected got better—and were ideal candidates for a “Survivor Volunteer Corps.”Now is the time to put this question to your employees: “Suppose a pandemic comes, you get the flu, and you recover. What skills do you have that can help?” Some health agencies have already started developing an employee pandemic skills registry. I’d like to see more companies doing the same thing (complete with liability waivers). Apart from the immense practical value of such a registry, think about what you’d be communicating to your employees: “There may be a pandemic. You may get sick. You’ll probably get better. You’ll be needed.”Now—not laterNo matter how good a job you do of warning employees about the need for pandemic preparedness, a lot of them won’t pay much attention till the last minute. Just-in-time pandemic communication will be crucial. But prepandemic communication is crucial, too.Start talking.An internationally renowned expert in risk communication and crisis communication, Peter Sandman speaks and consults widely on communication aspects of pandemic preparedness. Dr. Sandman, Deputy Editor, contributes an original column to CIDRAP Source Weekly Briefing every other week. Most of his risk communication writing is available without charge at the Peter Sandman Risk Communication Web Site, which includes an index of pandemic-related writing on the site.
As the doom and gloom clouds gather over the National Basketball Association – yes, it’s likely lockout-bound, as well – there still remains reason for optimism.In fact, there’s more than one.With free agency trending more and more toward superstar conglomeration – ? la LeBron James and the Miami Heat – the NBA has entered arguably its most riveting period in history since the 1980s. Free agency figures to be a contentious and polarizing issue in the ensuing labor talks, but make no mistake – this NBA season has been remarkable.The playoffs began Saturday, and if the first weekend was any indication at all of the type of postseason play the Association has in store, then one thing was made abundantly clear: You absolutely need to watch the NBA Playoffs.The top point guards are the best since…Saturday, the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose scored 39 points. He was 10-for-23 from the field, 19-for-21 from the free-throw line and also pulled down six rebounds, contributed six assists and blocked three shots.Simply put, he blew everyone’s mind. Monday night, he did it again. Rose scored 36 points and recorded eight rebounds and six assists while shooting 11-for-25 from the field and 12-13 from the free throw line as Chicago extended its lead over Indiana to 2-0.Sunday, Chris Paul scored 33 points. New Orleans’ point guard also contributed 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals. He was 11-for-18 from the field and 9-for-12 from the line. Conspirators said Paul’s performance was a blatant “I’m still here!” exclamation reminding everyone lost in the Rose hysteria that at the beginning of the season it was Paul who looked like the Most Valuable Player candidate. Hornets fans said Paul is just the better point guard. Most rational people just said the two of them played as top-tier point guards do.Regardless, a very significant statement was made this weekend. It wasn’t that Paul is better than Rose, or that Rose is better than Paul. Rather, it was that with these two point guards at the top of their game, they’re guiding the NBA through a paradigm-shifting postseason.Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Baron Davis (on a good night) and of course Steve Nash have shown for the past few years the talent level of point guards in this league is absolutely ridiculous. Yet, the NBA has remained a “big man’s game” in the heads of most basketball scholars.One game won’t change that, but the performances by Rose and Paul weren’t just single games. They were indications of how good these players have become and how good they can be at the top of their games. For instance, Rose was a .332 3-point shooter this year. For his career, he’s shot .309 from behind the arc. Saturday, he was 0-for-9.The Rose-Paul tandem (or Paul-Rose, in the spirit of maintaining diplomacy) is on the verge of being the best since Magic Johnson-John Stockton, and no matter how bold that might seem, it’s time to start welcoming the idea.Memphis has arrived…L.A. and Boston are still in fine shape after their opening games, but they were both clearly exposed. The Lakers were shocked (at home, no less) by the Paul-led Hornets Sunday, 109-100. Boston, as expected, showed its age that night against New York but pulled out an 87-85 win at TD Garden. The Celtics only led for 60 seconds in the second half and needed a stunning 3-pointer from Ray Allen with 12 seconds remaining to take Game 1.Also on Sunday, the Memphis Grizzlies upset the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, the San Antonio Spurs. The 101-98 victory was exceptional for a variety of reasons – Zach Randolph scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to justify his newly earned contract extension, reportedly for four years and $66 million, while Marc Gasol dominated Tim Duncan and the Spurs’ big men with 24 points and nine rebounds.Yet, none of them top the fact that the win was Memphis’ first playoff victory – ever. The Lakers, despite their struggles, very well could go on to win the series. Heck, they could sweep the next four. But now, after their surprise opener and perhaps shedding their “cheap” label with the Randolph extension, the Grizzlies have emerged as a viable threat in the West. Mike Conley (13.7 points, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game) has finally emerged as the point guard Memphis thought it drafted three years ago, while O.J. Mayo, Shane Battier and Sam Young provide valuable depth. When star forward Rudy Gay returns from injury, the Grizzlies will boast a deep, balanced squad that can contend in the West for much of the decade.…To challenge Oklahoma City for supremacy of the young gunsAs they emerge in the West, the Grizzlies could stand to follow the model set forth by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Essentially the darlings of professional sports, the Thunder is in the process of building a powerhouse around Kevin Durant (league-high 27.7 points with 6.8 rebounds per game) and Russell Westbrook (21.9 points and 8.2 assists per game).OKC general manager Sam Presti and head coach Scott Brooks have brought Jeff Green, James Harden and Serge Ibaka along to flank the two stars, and the results have been mind-blowingly impressive. After acquiring Kendrick Perkins from the Boston Celtics before February’s trade deadline, the Thunder added another big man to pair with Ibaka and give OKC one of the most athletic frontcourts in the league.The Thunder began the playoffs with a 107-103 win over the Denver Nuggets. Durant scored 41 points on 13-for-22 shooting (12-for-15 from the foul line) and recorded nine rebounds, while Westbrook contributed 31 points and added seven assists and six rebounds. In beating Denver, Oklahoma City took another step toward what very quickly is becoming more and more inevitable – contending in the NBA Finals.Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. What did you enjoy from the opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs? Let him know at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @mikefiammetta.