Note: This is day 21 of National Preparedness Month . Follow this year’s campaign on Twitter by searching for the #NatlPrep hash tag.
This month, as part of NPM15, I’ll be rerunning some edited and updated older preparedness essays, along with some new ones.
While fairly uncommon, and highly variable in impact, it is worth noting that there have been 3 legitimate pandemics, and a couple of pseudo-pandemics in my lifetime. As I’m only 61, there is a pretty good chance I’ll see another one before I exit stage left.
Over the past 60 years we’ve seen:
- The 1957 H2N2 Pandemic
- The 1968 H3N2 Pandemic
- The 1977 H1N1 `Russian Flu’ pseudo-pandemic
- The 2003 SARS pseudo-pandemic
- The 2009 H1N1 Pandemic
We are also in the midst of a slow-rolling HIV pandemic, which nonetheless has claimed the tens of millions of lives, and the 7th Cholera Pandemic (which ran between 1961-1975) still claims tens of thousands of lives each year.
While a lot of pathogens can potentially cause a pandemic, it is novel influenza that has historically wreaked the most havoc, and keeps most epidemiologists up at night.
A decade ago - when the H5N1 bird flu virus first threatened - we saw a massive global push for pandemic preparedness. Many groups selected a CPO; a Chief Pandemic Officer. Someone in their business, organization, or family - whose job it was to coordinate their pandemic plan (see Quick! Who's Your CPO?)..
Unfortunately, since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was perceived by many as being mild and the next event thought years away, many corporate, organizational, or agency pandemic plans haven’t been updated – or in some cases even looked at – in years.
While a pandemic may not strike with the suddenness of an earthquake or a Hurricane, a pandemic virus can still spread around the globe in a matter of days or weeks, leaving precious little time to prepare. The CDC, Ready.gov and FEMA continue to urge pandemic preparedness, as from this from Ready.gov:
Inspire others to act by being an example yourself, Pledge to Prepare & tell others about it!
You can prepare for an influenza pandemic now. You should know both the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic outbreak and what actions you can take to help lessen the impact of an influenza pandemic on you and your family. This checklist will help you gather the information and resources you may need in case of a flu pandemic.
Plan for a Pandemic
- Store a two week supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.
- Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
- Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
- Get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference. HHS provides an online tool intended to help people locate and access their electronic health records from a variety of sources. http://healthit.gov/bluebutton
- Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
- Volunteer with local groups to prepare and assist with emergency response.
- Get involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic.
If you are an employer, you should know that OSHA considers it your responsibility to provide a safe workplace – even during a pandemic - and has produced specific guidance on preparing workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic along with Guidance for Protecting Employees Against Avian Flu
Frankly, few businesses could survive a prolonged shutdown due to a pandemic. Which is why pandemic planning should be part of their overall business continuity and recovery plan. A couple of good resources worth checking out are The Business Continuity Daily and Cambridge Risk Perspectives, both of which provide daily reviews of current threats and advice on preparedness.
And this from the HHS’s Flu.gov.
The federal government cannot prepare for or respond to the challenge of a flu pandemic alone. Your community can develop strategies that reduce the impact and spread of pandemic flu.
Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation (PDF – 10.3 MB)
Plan Now to Be Ready for the Next Flu Pandemic (PDF – 213.55 KB)
The Next Flu Pandemic: What to Expect (PDF – 226.83 KB) Their advice (and this is for before a pandemic threat becomes imminent).
If you’ve not seen this movie, or haven’t seen it recently, it is well worth taking the time to watch it.
We could easily go years, or even decades, before the next pandemic strikes. Or, it could begin somewhere in the world tomorrow. Like earthquakes along fault lines, and tornadoes in Tornado Alley, pandemics are inevitable. The timing is really the only question.
For a family or an individual - if you are well prepared for a flood, or a blizzard, or a hurricane - you are probably in pretty good shape to deal with a pandemic. Unfortunately, fewer than half of all American households are so prepared.
Businesses, healthcare facilities, and government agencies will find that their disaster plans will need to consider pandemics a bit more specifically. For more information on how to prepare, you may want to revisit: