“Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” When White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel uttered those words in November he wasn’t referring to Swine Flu. But it is applicable to the current situation. Whether or not H1N1 turns into a major pandemic or not, it should be a catalyst for citizens and community institutions to review and bolster their emergency preparedness.
The American public is being warned that the H1N1 virus could turn into a pandemic very soon which would require a lot of changes in our lives. But to date only typical flu avoidance behavior is being recommended. (I was prepared for that as I have actually been following those guidelines for the past five months — since I have been undergoing chemotherapy which lowers one’s immune system.)Â However, officials have also smartly begun suggesting we think about ‘what if’ contingencies. President Obama mentioned this in his news conference last night:Â ”if more schools are forced to close, we’ve recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if their children do have to stay home.”Â In Senate testimony, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano elaborated:
“The best thing parents can do right now is to make sure you have a contingency plan in place so that you’ve made arrangements to care for your child in the event of a school closure.Â This is also a good reminder for businesses to think about contingency planning as well. As I said, we’re going to be working through this for a while. You have to anticipate what happens if you have employees who are parents. The schools have closed. The employees need to stay home. How do you continue with your business operations? And so all of us should be dusting off our business contingency plans, looking at things such as telecommuting and the like so that operations keep on going.”
Whether or not H1N1 turns into a full fledged pandemic here, it is a crisis that should not go to waste when it comes to individual, community, school and business preparedness.Â As Greg Dworkin, co-founder of the Fluwiki, suggests in a post “Next Steps on H1N1 Flu’:
Remember, you are not powerless. In addition to hand washing, covering you cough, and staying home if you are ill, you can also start to think about what to do if your local school needs to close for a few days or a few weeks. And if someone gets sick with this mild flu, can you stay home and take care of them for 10-14 days without leaving the house? If you are going to stock up on sanitizer, consider getting basic supplies you’d need to do so.Â Plan ahead, and remember that anything you don’t need because this fizzles, you’ll use with the next storm that cuts off power (make it all hazards, including some extra batteries.) This is an opportunity. HHS has been recommending two weeks of food and a plan for water for years.
For guidance, the well-regarded Trust for America’s Health today re-issued a series of It’s Not Flu As Usual guides to help in pandemic flu preparedness for families, businesses, medical providers, and community groups.