Seattle woman's company specializes in pandemics



Posted on October 20, 2009 at 11:31 AM

Video: Seattle woman finds niche in pandemics

When most of us are doing everything we can to avoid H1N1 swine flu, Annie Searle is immersing herself in it, or at least in the knowledge of how to cope with it.

"I like working on hard things, and I like being what I call a risk detective," she said. "I'm a very optimistic person, because I believe plans can be fixed and you can manage through crisis or catastrophes or emergencies if you're well-prepared."

It was that optimism that encouraged her to quit her job in the height of the recession as a pandemic expert at JP Morgan Chase and launch her own consulting company.

Now, she helps corporations around the world plan for all kinds of disasters. This year, she says it's all about swine flu.

"I think the most important thing is to calculate whether or not you have people who can step in and perform the critical functions of people who keep your business running."

At a time when businesses are already stretched thin, coping with sick employees is critical.

Searle's advice to the boss: Encourage employees to get the swine flu vaccine and dump the "you're a hero for coming to work sick" mentality.

"I think everyone's willing to invest in Purell and putting signs in restrooms telling people to wash their hands and cover their cough. I wish more companies were willing to say, 'If you're sick, stay home,'" she said.

That advice is strongly backed by public health officials.

"H1N1 is so widespread it will affect the workforce," said Bryan Heartsfield of King County Public Health.

Heartsfield stresses people need to take care of themselves.

"Government cannot do it all - and we need as much support as we can from the entire community, from volunteers, from pretty much, parents," he said.

Parents, who can encourage strict hand washing and vaccinate their children.

"I think it's important for people to understand what their risk is, if they don't get the vaccine and what their children's risk is," said Searle.

We may not be able to avoid swine flu. Experts warn up to 40 percent of a company's workforce could be out sick with it this year.

But at least we know detective Searle is on the case, helping people prepare.

"I like thinking about the worst possible thing that would happen - and making plans so that it doesn't happen," she said.

Searle also recommends every family have a swine flu plan which should include stocking up on the right food and medicines, and planning who can stay home to take care of sick family members.