Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fighting the flu

Joining numerous other levels of government, my home state of North Carolina is waving its arms about over the inevitable flu pandemic. (Mistake #1--assuming it will be an influenza pandemic. There are other diseases.)

During such a biological disaster, the state would shut down any gathering where the virus could be easily spread. Schools, churches, shopping malls and theaters would be closed. Concerts and sporting events would be canceled.

Well, it's a start, anyway. But what about grocery stores, drug stores, Wal-mart and so on? People gather there out of necessity--they need to buy the goods required by daily living. During a pandemic, they're still going to need food, and things like pain relivers, tissues, vaporizers and so on will be flying off the shelves. Or will they simply have to resign themselves to being sick and hungry at home? (Somehow, I don't think that will happen gracefully.)

Perhaps the National Guard will be delivering these things door-to-door. Oops! They're mostly in Iraq. OK, scratch that idea.

Health care workers are concerned that there will be shortages of supplies, hospital beds and that "Up to 40 percent of the doctors and nurses in the state's hospital system sick with flu, treating a loved one at home or too scared to come to work." I would wager that 40% is a conservative estimate. The Freeholder knows a couple of folks in that realm, and one has already made it clear that they will not be reporting to work in this sort of situation. The other is laying in additional supplies of food and so on. (Mistake #2--underestimating the seriousness of your situation.)

At least some of those planning have their head screwed on correctly, however. Brian Letourneau, public health director for Durham County, says "We're building our response under the assumption that we're on our own." Smart fellow--he won't be disappointed when FEMA is a no-show at the dance.

The Freeholder suggests that you re-examine your disaster preparations. (Something you should do from time to time anyway.) We'll all heard the old "3 days of food and water business", and if you're reading this, you probably realize that that's crap. You should always have a minimum of 30 days food, a week's water and a way to purify more. In the case of a pandemic, a 6 months supply of food isn't unrealistic--a year would be prudent, in my view. Remember, this won't be like a normal flu season--this will come in multiple waves over a period of 2-3 years. You may need to take refuge in your home not once, but several times.

It would be smart to plan for other goods, such as medical supplies, batteries, ways to keep warm and so on for a similar period. Consider how you will handle the needs of everyday life if certain services, such as trash pickup, aren't available because all the truck drivers are out sick. What could you do (or what would you be willing to do) to help your neighbors?

Plan and prepare now, while you have time to think things through and the goods are available for you to stock up. Waiting for the pandemic to arrives may well mean that you and yours become statistics.

Plan on helping yourself. As Mr. Letourneau noted, we're probably going to be on our own. Government will not be able to help everyone--they may not be able to help anyone. You, your family and your neighbors may all have to do something unusual in this day and time--rely on only what you have to see you through. And you may find yourself left to your own devices for quite some time.

Our civilization, despite appearances, is a fragile construction. As Americans, we've seen what a relatively small event, 9/11, did to our economy, our peace of mind and our society. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader--how bad would a world-wide pandemic hit us?

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