Weathering the Storm: Leading Your Organization Through a Pandemic

Stephen Prior, Robert Armstrong, and Ford Rowan with Mary Beth Hill-Harmon, Center for Technology and National Security Policy National Defense University, November 2006

Executive Summary

The Calm Before the Storm

A storm is coming.

None of us have ever experienced a storm like this. It could arrive very soon. But, as anyone who makes a living as a forecaster will quickly say, “On the other hand . . .”

The storm is, of course, an influenza pandemic.

Much has been written in the past few years about the virus known as H5N1 and its potential to develop into a pandemic.

Some in the scientific community are questioning whether that will ever happen.1 If H5N1 does become pandemic, we have no basis for predicting whether it will be this year or 10 years from now.

After all, H5N1 was first identified in birds in 1961; the first human cases did not appear until 1997.

There is little doubt, though, that eventually something—most likely a virus—will mutate into a pandemic form. The SARS outbreak in February 2003 is a good example of how a lethal virus can emerge suddenly.

We were fortunate that SARS, while contagious, did not become pandemic. The SARS outbreak and the emergence of H5N1 avian influenza provide us with a forewarning of the problems a larger outbreak will pose.

It is prudent to use this time before the storm to plan for the societal disruption a pandemic will cause.

A pandemic poses problems that most disasters—even “ordinary” public health disasters—do not present.

First, the time period of the disaster is extended; the 1918 pandemic lasted about 18 months, with three distinct peaks of infection and illness.

Another issue with a pandemic is its geographic spread; modern air travel can deliver any pathogen worldwide in a very short time frame. Thus, our planning has to take into account the necessity to change our social behaviors and possibly restrict our movements to limit the pathogen’s spread.

Preparing for the Storm

Limiting contact with our fellow humans for possibly a year and a half is a daunting task, but possibly necessary to save human life. However, in the midst of it all, society must continue to function.

This document is a guide to help you prepare your organization for survival during a pandemic.

All organizations have their own culture and character, so no one easy-to-follow guide will provide all of the answers for your specific group.

This document is designed to provide you with resource materials from which you may pick and choose to tailor a plan that is best suited to your circumstances.

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