Regarding employees' health, telecommuting is an option for some jobs but far from for all. "For many industries, you can't telecommute. You can't make steel or grow food at home," he said. "The second thing is, no one really knows for certain the actual capacity of the Internet system today if everybody were to use it for primary [communication]."
Agris said it will be important not to shut down the nation's transportation, or cities will not be able to get critical supplies. "You need to keep transportation open and keep those people healthy who handle the warehouses," he said.
For more information on how businesses can prepare, click here.
Best-case scenario: Well-prepared hospitals have a stockpile of masks, gowns and gloves, as well as staff trained to manage an influx of patients and set priorities for the neediest cases, which will help keep the virus from spreading.
Worst-case scenario: Hospitals lack basic supplies and end up spreading the infection from unsanitary conditions rather than treating the sick.
The health care system's response to a pandemic will be crucial to how it plays out, experts said. But what happens if doctors and nurses panic and don't want to jeopardize their own health by treating others?
"Pay close attention to what happens to health care workers," Caplan said. "Get them in to work. They have to feel as safe as possible. ... I'm very worried that since we've turned health care so much into a business, people will say, 'I'm just an employee. I'm not going to put myself at special risk.'"
And assuming they do come in to work, how many hospitals will be ready for mass illness? Toner said it would be tough to organize.
"Very few hospitals, if any, are well-prepared," Toner said. "No hospitals have adequate supplies of basic items to last through a pandemic. Nobody in modern business, particularly hospitals, have stockpiles of anything anymore because we have this just-in-time supply chain."
And that could prove to be deadly. "Hospitals not only will be unable to protect their staff and patients, they likely will become major amplifiers of the epidemic because the sick people will infect other people," he said. "If the pandemic is like 1918 or worse, which is possible, people won't be able to stay at home. This will be a life and death decision."
What about those who are uninsured or in the country illegally? Caplan said the health care industry must figure out who will pay to treat the sick.
"Insurance companies, managed care companies, HMOs -- they have to make it clear that they're going to pull out the rules and people can get what they need, including illegal aliens," he said. "If we do have a pandemic, have an emphasis on getting to the doctor, not having people worried they're going to be deported."
For more information on how health care providers can prepare, click here.
Best-case scenario: The federal government, already preparing, clearly communicates an action plan for a bird-flu pandemic. Local governments reach out to residents to provide resources, keep order and ensure calm prevails.
Worst-case scenario: Communities cannot provide essential services due to extensive employee illnesses, panic ensues.
Despite extensive preparations being made by the federal government in vaccine supplies and public education, there likely won't be much for it to do if a pandemic strikes.