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Who’s paying for bird flu prep?

Hillary Wicai May 2, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: How does this sound? We restrict access at the borders. Limit international flights. Put questionable travelers in a special holding zone. And tell people they cannot travel freely once they’re here. Nope, not immigration reform. Bird flu. The Associated Press got a copy of the government plan that will be released tomorrow. Marketplace’s Hillary Wicai reports the private sector’s going to have some work to do.

HILLARY WICAI: The report outlines how every branch of government should respond in a worst-case scenario. A pandemic could cause up to 2 million US deaths and prevent as much as 40% of the labor force from working. But the report says some 85% of our vital social systems like food production, medicine and financial services are privately run. Steven Ross is with Deloitte and Touche. He agrees businesses must plan.

STEVEN ROSS: They have money at stake, careers at stake, people’s lives at stake. They owe it to society to be prepared to continue on when something hits.

The report calls for employers to limit the virus’ spread by keeping workers at least three feet apart from one another, allowing them to work from home and substituting teleconferences for meetings. Basic disaster preparedness, right? Rosslyn Stone is with the firm Corporate Wellness.

ROSSLYN STONE: I just read a report this morning that was from an online survey by business and legal reports that says 75% of businesses felt they were completely unprepared.

Ann Beauchesne at the US Chamber of Commerce says the sheer scope of the potential disaster is one hurdle.

ANN BEAUCHESNE: We’ve heard it described several times as a global blizzard that will last for 12 months. And again that’s the planning challenge — it’s not going to just be a couple of days.

The other is cost — for training employees to fill multiple roles, upgrading homes with necessary IT equipment, even hiring advisors. One international consultant is charging companies $5,000 to $40,000 to develop a disaster plan.

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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