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IBM service hedges flu pandemic

Contingency Planning Assessment service will check where a company is vulnerable in the event of widespread influenza outbreak.

IBM is introducing a service that seeks to answer a question that few would like to ask: Are we ready for a flu pandemic?

The Contingency Planning Assessment, offered by IBM Global Services, is designed to give corporations a better picture of the vulnerabilities they could face in the event of a widespread outbreak of avian influenza.

In the past year, the bird flu has spread through bird populations in Asia and Europe, and scientists fear it could spread to humans, causing a flu pandemic.

Possible disruptions from a pandemic include sick employees and breakdowns in basic infrastructure, such as transportation and government services.

"Customers are being more proactive in trying to understand the risk and vulnerability they have from all hazards, natural and man-made," said Brent Woodworth, global leader of IBM's Crisis Response Team.

IBM will examine a company or government's business processes and technical infrastructure, and make recommendations on how to deal with an outbreak.

Specific questions Woodworth said IBM could help companies answer include: "How do I operate my business if I have to operate with dramatically reduced staff, and what impact will my suppliers have?" and "Where do I downsize operations and how?"

Financial services or medical-related industries are obvious candidates for the service, Woodworth said.

The Contingency Planning Assessment is offered starting at $10,000. Prices for a more complete service for large corporations or governments can reach about $150,000.

A report from AMR Research found that 68 percent of companies with revenue over $1 billion were not prepared for a pandemic such as a flu outbreak.