Friday, August 3, 2012

Don't Forget, The Next Pandemic Is Coming

Some of our clients get really nervous when I start talking about the “next pandemic.” Some say I’ve gone off the deep end, again.  Others take it seriously, and some have had Pandemic Crisis Plans in place since at least 2005.

In 1998 and 1999, some of our largest clients ever, retained ICM to help them develop Y2K Crisis Plans.  Remember the concern that when the calendar turned over to January 1, 2000 all computers in the world might go bonkers and bring the world’s business to a halt?
It was a possibility – somewhat remote – but still a possibility.  And good companies knew better than to take a chance.  All the clients we worked with, prepared, planned and practiced for what could go wrong, and took steps to prevent as much as they could anticipate.

And at 12:01 AM that night, all their hard work and preparation paid off and nothing major went haywire.
So what does that have to do with the next pandemic?

Flu pandemics strike about every 40 to 50 years.  The worst in modern times was the 1918/1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. Close to 675,000 people died in the United States in the fall and winter between those two years. That was compared to an estimated 50-million people who died around the world.

In 1957/58 a relatively small pandemic originated in the Far East and before it was over 69,800 people died in the U.S.

The Hong Kong Flu pandemic struck in 1968/69 killing “only” 33,800.
The most recent Swine Flu Pandemic claimed about 18,000 American lives in 2009/10.  Researchers reacted quickly and 61-million flu vaccine doses were administered, keeping the death toll so low.

Here at the Institute for Crisis Management we began to advocate for organizations of all kinds and size to develop a pandemic plan. Historically 20-to-40-percent of the population can be infected and unable to work for days and weeks.

What business can function successfully with a third or more of the workforce out sick?  We had great concern for hospitals and law enforcement and fire departments.  I spoke from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Sao Paulo, Brazil and everywhere in between.
Researchers continue to anticipate what type and when the next pandemic flu will strike. Federal health authorities announced 29 human cases of a new strain of swine flu have been confirmed in recent months, including 12 this week.  Ten of those cases were linked to the Butler County Fair in southwest Ohio. 

Four cases of a new strain of swine flu have been confirmed in recent days by Pennsylvania officials.  And to compound the problem, since September of last year 162 dead or dying harbor seals have washed up along the New England coast.  Animal health experts say they were suffering from a new type of influenza they caught from birds.

Migratory birds are almost always the source of transmission of pandemic flu viruses.
If you have a pandemic plan for your business or organization, dust it off and update it.

If you don’t have one, today is a good day to start working on one.

Just one example of the things you have to plan for:  Say you are a municipal police department or sheriff’s department.  It’s one thing to have 20-to-40-percent of your officers and staff out sick at the same time, but what about the source of the gasoline that fuels your patrol cars?  If your supplier has a third of their delivery drivers out sick and can’t make timely deliveries of gasoline, do you have back-up bicycles or horses or can you cover your area on foot?

Health care providers are another source of concern for me.  Almost every hospital has a plan to deal with mass casualties in their community, but very few hospitals have plans for when they are the crisis.
In a pandemic with up to 40-percent of the population sick and in need of medical care, what happens when 40-percent of the hospital’s doctors, nurses and technicians are too sick to work or afraid to come to work?

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