Planning for Pandemics, Epidemics and Outbreaks

On June 16, 2014

The second workshop of the World Conference on Disaster Management was extremely interesting and related to pandemics, epidemics and outbreaks.

The first point was the need to change the terminology from pandemic plans to epidemic or outbreak plans because we are more likely to experience one of these than a pandemic. An outbreak can still have a major impact on a single organisation as seen on a cruise ship recently.

Another interesting point was that of social distancing – a concept that doesn’t really get discussed by government in Australia. It means shutting down venues and events where people congregate.

In the US during the 1918 pandemic, one municipality adopted a social distancing policy and the neighbouring municipality didn’t. The one that didn’t lost significantly more lives than the municipality that did.

Imagine cancelling the AFL Grand Final. It requires fortitude by a government to do this. It is a concept that is appreciated after it has been proven to save lives but not before. It is a concept we need to be talking about and planning for in an environment when bio-security is a real threat and may not be preventable just by tightening security.

Lastly, we all need to continue to wash our hands as the most effective way of stopping the spread of a pandemic. Early training of this practice, as a way of preventing common communicable diseases such as the common cold, is an excellent preparatory training mechanism for a pandemic or epidemic.

However, in the event of an incident, business continuity plans need to be in place so that organisations can continue to operate and provide critical services, whatever they may be.