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Emergency preparedness is tricky business at best. It seems we’re either blindsided by sudden catastrophes–9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are the obvious examples–but tornadoes, fires, and snow and ice storms take a toll as well. Or it’s the classic case of hurry up and wait as we rush to prepare for an impending or predicted emergency that thankfully hasn’t occurred, think avian flu pandemic or another major terrorist attack.

And that’s the nature of emergency preparedness, trying to know the unknown. There’s so much we can’t predict: when and where will the next big earthquake strike? Will the H5N1 Avian Flu Virus mutate to become a highly contagious virus in humans? Will the levees hold in the next big storm? Here’s what we do know: we’ve been tested; we’ve survived; and we can take with us knowledge and lessons learned to help us prepare for whatever’s next.

Preparing for a Pandemic Some people think an avian flu pandemic might be next. Whether it’s a media-induced “infodemic” or it’s the real deal is hard to say, but statistics from the World Health Organization show that while influenza pandemics are rare, they are recurrent events. In the 20th century there were three pandemics, the “Spanish influenza” in 1918 that killed an estimated 4 to 50 million people, and subsequent milder pandemics in 1957 and 1968 with estimated deaths of two million and one million respectively.

Building owners and property managers are particularly vested since any potential disaster affects every aspect of their job, from building operations to tenant safety to business continuity. There are excellent resources available to help commercial real estate professionals prepare for a possible avian flu pandemic outbreak–preparedness publications, educational seminars, web resources, and the list goes on.

The industry is also coming together to strategize collectively. In January, the Real Estate Roundtable held its first meeting of the Avian Flu Pandemic Working Group in Washington, DC. Leaders from principal real estate associations and companies joined public health officials for a half-day session of sharing information and resources and discussing ways the industry should be preparing for an avian flu pandemic. Lisa Koonin with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and James Caverly with the Department of Homeland Security Infrastructure Partnership Division, told attendees that employers should develop workplace strategies to prepare for a possible pandemic, including:

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