The federal government should be in good enough shape to get through a really bad flu season. Here is why. While H1N1 is more contagious than other strains of seasonal flu we have seen in recent years, it actually appears to be less lethal. If more folks die from medical complications due to flu (on average 36,000 die each year), it will be because more folks get sick. Washington should be able to handle the extra stress (that is the conclusion of a recent research study by the Heritage Foundation).
Where much more preparation needs to be is in our local communities. An example of the kinds of things that should be done are detailed in a recent book by Matt Mayer, Homeland Security and Federalism. In a case study in the book, Mayer points out that many consider the efforts of Seattle and King County, Washington, as a model for preparing for pandemic influenza. In response to the SARS outbreak in Asia, county leaders implemented several key actions. Such activities would be appropriate to address any flu outbreak. Specifically, Seattle and King County:
- Established Vulnerable Population Action Teams “to reach individuals who may not or cannot access information from traditional sources that serve the general public,” which included using the Community Communication Network to reach vulnerable populations through familiar contacts.
- Conducted a two-day seminar for health care providers on business resiliency issues, such as regional hazards, essential services and critical functions, surge capacity, evacuation, and financial resiliency.
- Created an e-mail alert system that allows individuals to sign up to receive e-mail alerts.
- Translated key documents, such as biohazard and disaster response fact sheets and preparedness check lists, into many languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Somali, and Cambodian.
- Developed and distributed Speak First: Communicating Effectively in Times of Crisis and Uncertainty, an advanced training practice kit on public health risk communication, and Business Not as Usual: Preparing for Pandemic Flu, a video for businesses, government, and community-based organizations.
We need more communities like Seattle and King County to be ready for the challenges of the future.