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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Request For Reader Ideas: “What Are The Lessons Of The H1N1/Swine Flu Outbreak On Citizen Preparedness/Response For Future Emergencies?”

May 11th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Though public and media attention on the H1N1/Swine Flu outbreak has waned, there is a need to examine the lessons of the past couple weeks for future citizen preparedness and response — whether that be for a reoccurrence of a more deadly H1N1 flu possibly in the Fall or another national emergency situation. 

So, I thought I would ask for reader input and contact some experts to gather some of the lessons we can learn from the H1N1 situation when it comes to informing, engaging and preparing citizens for major emergencies. You can either comment at the bottom of this post or email me at I will collect and present them all on the blog. 

For me, one of the major lessons  as I wrote about recently is the need to improve the government’s emergency social media capability. Another lesson is that we should not ‘let a serious crisis go to waste’ and make sure we are each prepared for the next — possibly more serious — crisis. Here are some other ideas I have received so far:

*Eric Holderman, Eric Holderman & Associates, Disaster-Zone blog (

Watching the event on popular media was interesting:
-Early deaths reported in Mexico got everyone’s attention
-Alarm bells went off, appropriately
-WHO maybe took it too far to fast with elevating to Phase V
-Messaging, “don’t panic” is poor. People are watching too many disaster movies
-Message now should be about the Fall flu season in 2009 here in USA
-Some will read this as false alarm–and may not prepare/act again.
-Prior planning paid off, there was a system in place
-Capture what is learned and “Don’t Panic” :)

*Brian McDaniel, Strong Media, On Strategic Communications blog (

1. Think Health First

From eating a balanced diet to properly disinfecting surfaces in your home and workspace, you can’t go wrong by forming health habits. The CDC has an entire section on Individual and Family Planning with respect to Pandemic Influenza. But their suggestions are great for the common cold or warding off “cooties,” if that was a real problem.

2. Have a Plan if Your School Closes

Besides the fact that schools risked losing federal funding when they closed at the onset of H1N1 influenza, there was a major problem with the CDC’s guidelines on school closings: parents found themselves in a hard place of an unscheduled seven day vacation. Taking your kids to the movies, the mall, or letting little Suzie spend time at Cathy’s house, isn’t what the CDC had in mind when schools closed. They wanted to isolate sick children from healthy ones. I expect that the idea of taking sick children out of school for 7-10 days will be the guideline this fall, allowing schools to remain open. But what many parents don’t realize is that schools that see major spikes in absenteeism because of H1N1 can be closed still. So what will you do if your school closes this fall? Plan now.

3. Emergency Supplies

Nearly every home has a stash of band-aids, hydrogen peroxide, and the like; but this summer is the time to put together (or replenish) you home healthcare drawer. The CDC has a great list here. This isn’t about preparing for a nuclear attack, just a simple reserve for the unexpected. Cash crunch? Purchase these items over several weeks. Seasonal flu shouldn’t hit until the fall.

4. Have a Reliable Source of Information

Many people keep up with news and information by using an RSS reader such as Google Reader or News Gator. Regardless of which one you use, there are several good feeds you should include in your feed list when it comes to following seasonal influenza.

CDC Flu Update
CDC H1N1 Flu Updates
WHO’s Disease Outbreak

5. Relax and Enjoy the Summer

For all of the hype around H1N1 influenza, people stayed calm. The media may have hyperventilated, but there were no riots in the streets, fist-fights over masks, and the like. This novel strain of influenza hasn’t proven itself to be very virulent. In fact, most of the deaths-even in Mexico-were intertwined with other health issues in the patients. There is no reason to be anxious about the coming flu season. There also is no reason why should shouldn’t be prepared either.

*Bruce Hennes, Hennes Communications (

HereÂ’’s the bottom line: We have been warned. So what does this mean for your business, government agency or nonprofit? Now is the time to pull out your crisis communications plan and make sure everything is up to date. Do you have current contact information for your staff and a mechanism in place to quickly notify them if, for example, one of your employees is diagnosed with the flu? Do you have a way for employees to quickly notify you if they are affected by the illness? Have you communicated your policies about what they should do if a member of their family becomes ill?

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Tags: Pandemic Flu · Preparedness Ideas · Preparedness Lessons

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