Is Your Pandemic Planning Adequate

Published in News on 3/12/2018

Author John Barry’s PrepTalk showcases lessons learned from the 1918 and 2009 influenza pandemics. He tells emergency managers how to work with public health and elected officials to implement measures to save lives and avoid ineffective measures that can lose community trust.

Tagged Under: Emergency Response, Public Health, Public Information

In his 18-minute Preptalk, Barry reminds us that “the boss is the virus. We have no way of knowing if the next [pandemic] will be exceedingly mild, or like 1918, or worse.” 

Barry outlines the potential severity of a pandemic and stresses the importance of testing plans with realistic exercises. Barry also highlights the important role of elected leaders and being honest with the public. “Planning does not equal preparation. [Plans need to be tested] with table top games [and they] have to be taken seriously. People at the top have to be invested in it.”

Barry discusses the demands on the medical care community during a pandemic and the potential scale of people needing medical care. “We really need a universal vaccine. West Nile [virus] used to get more funding than vaccine research for Influenza. The highest death toll annually for West Nile in the U.S. was 284 people. Seasonal Influenza kills between 3,000 and 56,000.”

Barry also emphasized the critical importance of risk communication during a pandemic. He described how the effectiveness of NPIs depends on public compliance. To achieve compliance, the public must trust the message and the messenger. “NPIs will do some good, [but they] have to be sustained. They will save some lives [and] lessen the stress on healthcare.”
In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences named Barry’s book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, a study of the 1918 pandemic, as the year's best book on science or medicine. 

PrepTalks: John M. Barry "The Next Pandemic: Lessons from History"   

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Citation: John M. Barry, The Next Pandemic: Lessons from History, FEMA PrepTalks: February 20, 2018,