Planning valid for variety of what ifs
Last week’s what-if doomsday scenario at the National Guard armory was somewhat upstaged the following day by a report in the international news.
City, county and state officials of government and law enforcement, public health, hospitals and schools had met on Wednesday to consider local response to a hypothetical outbreak of a bird flu pandemic. Then on Thursday, international news accounts reported that birds returning from Africa to Europe on the spring migration return routes to northern latitudes were not found to be infested with the deadly virus as had been expected.
That’s the trouble with planning for doomsday. It always takes an unexpected turn. In light of the lack of infestation of the returning migratory birds, international disease control experts conceded that in spite of predictions to the contrary the bird flu was not being spread extensively by wild birds. They said that their understanding of the deadly but elusive virus is far from complete.
Nonetheless, last week’s local meeting provided glimpses into the thinking of the people we depend on to deal with our emergencies.
||Universally agreed upon – during panel discussions among three smaller groups that the 40-or-so people divided themselves into – was the priority of vaccine administration. People who are on the front lines of health care and essential services will get the first doses of flu vaccine as it is developed and becomes available in Panola County. It makes sense that the people we expect to care for the rest of us and the people we expect to keep our fire, police and utility services operating be able to function during a catastrophe.
||The need for a county central command and control structure was also considered paramount. Not necessarily a central commander, but a centralized decision-making place where when the health department makes a public health decision, it is immediately shared with law enforcement, civil defense, fire departments and all other entities involved. Likewise, when a hospital decision is made, it is shared with the other entities. And so on, just a matter of everybody having an idea what everybody else is doing or expected to do.
||Local governments and their agencies cannot expect much help from federal resources. The president has already told us this would be the case in the event of a flu pandemic. The increasing inertia of federal bureaucracies in the face of catastrophes of magnitude has been amply demonstrated by its response to Hurricane Katrina.
Among those in discussion groups were some who were involved in helping the county cope with the devastating ice storm of 1994. When appropriate they drew on the lessons learned over a dozen years ago when the weight of ice literally destroyed the electrical distribution system in this county.
Therein lies the value of conducting such exercises. Who knows whether the emergency that we will face will be the avian flu, an earthquake, terrorist attack or some other catastrophe as yet unimagined.
Yet portions of last week’s discussion and the decisions made will be applicable to most any challenge that could come our way. And allowing first responders, government officials and other related officials to get to know each other during a time of controlled planning will allow better cooperation and coordination during a time of unexpected pandemonium.
Therein lies its value.