While all eyes were gazing to Asia watching with increasing disinterest at the meandering of the H5N1 (avian flu) virus, everyone was completely caught off guard when the H1N1 (swine flu) swooped into America “officially” on April 24. On hindsight, departments of public health in many parts of the US had already started to see an increase in “flu-like” cases in emergency departments. The World Health Organization moved the pandemic alert quickly from three to four and four to five and finally taking it to a WHO 6 on June 11, 2009. On July 16, the WHO issued the following prophetic statement, “Further spread of the pandemic is considered inevitable…“The 2009 influenza pandemic has spread internationally with unprecedented speed. In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed more than six months to spread as widely as the new H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks.”
Government agencies and Companies have a limited time to get ready before the fall flu season begins. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told government leaders at a swine flu preparedness summit in early July, to plan for the worst-case scenario of the virus reappearing with renewed strength this fall. She advised 500 government, health and education “What we need to assume is that it will come back in a much more severe form.”
What You Should Know
Then planning for the next pandemic wave:
- In a severe pandemic, your company/agency could experience between 25-40% absenteeism of staff, vendors, and services within the community such as health care, police, and fire. Because of the absenteeism, essential functions carried out by contractors, consultants and vendors may not be executed. Nonetheless, civil infrastructure, while stressed, will remain functional.
- The pandemic may last as long as eighteen months, striking in up to three separate waves; mortality and morbidity will increase and decrease in spurts. The second wave has historically produced the greatest number of deaths and illnesses.
- There may be a period of “normal” between the pandemic waves, and the company/agency will reassess its pandemic plan between the waves and modify as necessary.
- Civil authorities may impose closures of gathering places in the community including businesses, schools, churches, events, and shopping malls.
- The company/agency will likely have less than four weeks of warning before wide spread community illness touches the company/agency as was demonstrated with the dramatic spread of H1N1 in April – May 2009.
- No pharmacological remedies for the influenza virus will be immediately available. Antivirals will be in very limited supply (and may develop resistance), vaccinations will take up to 6-10 months to develop in sufficient numbers, and antibiotics are only effective for the treatment of secondary bacterial infections.
- Susceptibility to the influenza virus will be universal.
- The pandemic will likely occur simultaneously throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world, preventing shifts of resources that normally occur with natural disasters.
- There will be a prolonged effect on communities – lasting months, possibly as long as a year.
- There will be a substantial economic impact around the world.
How Can EMSS Help?
Emergency Management and Safety Solutions has been developing pandemic plans for large global companies since early 2003, eight months before the current avian flu (H5N1) outbreak began in South Korea. Since then, EMSS has developed a comprehensive planning process that includes the use of a finely honed template, educational training, and facilitated task force sessions to prepare a company to manage this highly complicated emergency event.
EMSS’s consultants are skilled planners with many years of experience in various industries, including healthcare, financial services, and emergency management. EMSS consultants will lead your team through the pandemic planning process efficiently and effectively. Contact EMSS today to learn how we can assist you in developing your company’s pandemic plan.