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February 15, 2006

Business Planning for Pandemic Influenza: How Do We Debate the Tough Questions?

Ted Koppel spoke last night to an audience of over 360 attendees at CIDRAP's Business Planning for Pandemic Influenza: A National Summit. Koppel's talk, which roundly criticized the present state of TV news, laid the groundwork for his broader call for open dialogue on the flu pandemic.  The former creator and host of "Nightline" argued that public cooperation  can best be achieved in an environment in which the media and political leaders provide audiences with what they need to know rather than what they want to hear

To the international audience of business and government strategic planners, Koppel  argued that the present moment might present an opportunity to get the major issues out on the table for debate and discussion. "Once the pandemic occurs, it will be too late," he emphasized. 

Koppel's talk followed earlier presentations, including a keynote address by Health and Human Services Secretary, Michael Leavitt.  Leavitt made clear in his talk to the business people assembled that they could not depend on the federal government "bringing in the cavalry", should a bird flu pandemic spread into the human population.

Taking Koppel's cue, and Leavitt's admonition, as a starting point, we've compiled, in no particular order,  a sampling of some of those tough questions that emerged in Koppel's talk as well as others that have come to the surface over the course of this 2-day Meeting in Minneapolis.

  • What's the proper role of business in this equation?
  • Is the problem too big for businesses alone to solve?
  • What should the government be spending funds allocated for Avian Flu on?
  • How do you get companies that manufacture basics like syringes, face masks, swabs, etc. to increase capacity?
  • How long will it take for a better flu production process to be developed?
  • How much reliance should anyone put on Tamiflu and related antivirals?
  • Should people be going out and buying Tamiflu if they can find it?
  • should doctors be writing prescriptions to their patients?
  • What are the weakest links in a pandemic that will engulf the entire society at once?
  • How much time will there be once the flu begins to spread before it engulfs the entire planet?
  • Should governments close their borders to everyone?
  • Should governments allow citizens to return home from hot spots?
  • What would quarantine mean for travelers?
  • How much fear is good fear?
  • What is the role of communication in the panic factor?
  • How big will the panic factor be?
  • Should company's stockpile medical supplies for their employees?
  • Should company's take measures to support sick employees unable to get into hospitals?
  •  What will employee's do when schools are closed?
  • Which employees should be considered vital?
  • Will marshal law need to be declared?
  • Are there adequate numbers of National Guardsmen (assuming peak sick rates of over 35%) to provide for a regime of marshal law?
  • What would trigger the need to move to marshal law?
  • Who should get vaccinated first?
  • Who should get stockpiled antiviral drugs?
  • How should the dead be cared for?
  • Where should they be stored? (Canada expects to use its ice rinks)
  • Should people be told how to safely bury their own dead?
  • What should everyone stock up?
  • Can the electric grid be maintained?
  • Can the communication grid be maintained? For how long and under what conditions?
  • What happens when a significant natural disaster strikes during the pandemic, can we handle that, too? (The pandemic will come in waves over a period of many months?)
  • Can the water supply be maintained?
  • Should people stock up on water?
  • Can transportation of goods be maintained?
  • What goods will take priority?
  • Should there be a rationing plan at the ready in case trucks can't move and fuel supplies are greatly curtailed?
  • How can panic be defused?
  • Can the Internet withstand the strain of greatly increased traffic?
  • Should schools remain open?
  • What percentage of the workforce can work at home, with the proper infrastructure support?
  • Should patients with regular drug needs be allowed to get prescriptions and insurance coverage to stockpile vital drugs?
  • Should companies institute liberal sick pay benefits to help discourage people from coming to work?
  • Should legislatures come up with laws specific to a state of pandemic emergency that lifts privacy constraints and other potential liabilities for employers and service providers?
  • If so, should that be standardized in Congress or left to the State legislatures?
  • How much should be left up to the local and state health authorities?

What emerges from this Conference is the absolute necessity for communication.  The big question, of course, is how that communication can occur. Koppel's point on the state of electronic news delivery is pertinent


The public needs to be made more fully aware of the present danger, the assessment that an H5N1 pandemic is probable though not certain, that, if we luck out and it's not H5N1, that flu pandemics do occur with great regularity and that there is an important role for businesses here not just in their own preparations but in their greater role of powerful advocates able to make government at all levels respond.  This is perhaps the most important thing that businesses can do.  The Avian Flu pandemic is a worldwide phenomenon that requires that government take the lead role. There are no safe islands.

We will be happy to add your questions to the above list.

Posted by dymaxion at February 15, 2006 02:52 PM

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