City exercise will test its ability to cope with 'flu pandemic'

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The Independent Online

The City of London's ability to cope with a flu pandemic will be tested next month when UK financial authorities conduct a six-week exercise to gauge the financial service sector's preparedness for such a threat. Ominously, the simulation will start on Friday the 13th.

The test will not be as dramatic as last year's simulated terrorist attack that was organised by the authorities. More than 1,000 people were involved in that event to determine whether markets could function after a major disaster.

Instead, the pandemic trial will be held over a longer period with the scenario evolving in line with the responses of participants to the potential effects of a flu pandemic. A spokeswoman for the FSA said the initial stages of the simulation would involve low-level threats but would also look to determine the impact of a disruption to transport, power and telecoms services.

Participants will consider the prospect of significant staff shortages and how to segregate or isolate affected workers. The resilience of home-working systems and technology will also be examined, and businesses will be asked to consider the possibility of litigation issues arising from a flu pandemic as well as possible insurance cover.

The exercise will be conducted by the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority. More than 60 financial organisations have been invited to participate.

The authorities hold such an exercise once a year to determine the financial services sector's ability to deal with crisis. The flu pandemic is the fourth such exercise and a report will be published once the simulation has been concluded and the findings examined.

Many banks have already been preparing for a potential flu outbreak in the UK and its possible consequences. Fears of a global pandemic have risen over recent years because of the spread of the avian flu virus H5N1 among migratory birds. This virus can cause severe illness in humans who contract it from birds. The strain of bird flu cannot yet cause a pandemic as it is not currently capable of being transmitted between human beings.