Friday, July 11, 2008

Preparation In the Absence of Press

The threat of pandemic flu has gotten a lot less press lately, mostly because the incidence of avian flu seems to have plateaued somewhat (though Indonesia is still being really tight-lipped about what's going on there, so who really knows?)

But even though the issue is getting less attention in the media, some communities are continuing to do the smart thing and developing plans to address a pandemic flu. It's worth remembering that there's no guarantee that the source of the next human pandemic will be avian flu. It could come from another source, and it could conceivably come out of nowhere and surprise us.

So it's good to see local communities, like these in South Dakota, working together to develop plans to deal with the threat, which in its severest instances (e.g., an event comparable to the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak) could have more widespread impacts than almost any other catastrophic event:

After more than a year of work, the members of a local planning committee will present their pandemic influenza response plan to the public.

The 131-page plan was developed by committees from Aurora, Davison and Hanson counties and it provides guidelines on how to deal with a pandemic flu outbreak that many medical professionals believe is inevitable.

[The plan] provides action checklists to help schools, businesses and other community organizations develop a coping plan, in the event of a flu outbreak.

A family preparedness kit will ... demonstrate what items should be on hand in the event of an epidemic. Such preparedness will be important in the event of a flu outbreak.

While the Centers For Disease Control and the state Health Department will monitor and report on all flu outbreaks, said Assistant Mitchell Fire Chief Steve Willis, local jurisdictions will largely be on their own.

Apathy is the greatest danger when it comes to planning for a dangerous flu outbreak, says Jim Montgomery, Davison County Emergency Management director.

Mr. Montgomery is absolutely right - the best community-based plan will be useless unless individual citizens, businesses and other entities such as churches and community groups do their part to prepare.

In my humble opinion, the effort to create the plan ought to be dwarfed by the effort to distribute it, publicize it, and follow up to ensure that people are prepared. According to the Red Cross, more than 90 percent of Americans are not prepared for a major disaster. In Mitchell, only about 40 people (in a population of 15,000) showed up at the meeting to learn about the pandemic flu plan. But as the dedicated John Solomon regularly and diligently reminds us (because repetition makes a message stick) citizen preparedness is vital.

The Holy Grail of preparedness is getting more individuals to prepare on their own. Every citizen that's adequately prepared will help the system - not only by being better off themselves, but also by reducing the strain on community services, improving the situation for their neighbors as well.

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