Swine Flu: "This Could be Our Next Pandemic" - Regina Phelps, Emergency Management Expert
Regina Phelps is an internationally recognized expert in the field of emergency management and continuity planning. With over 26 years of experience, she has provided consultation and educational speaking services to clients in four continents. She is founder of Emergency Management & Safety Solutions, a consulting company specializing in emergency management, continuity planning and safety.
TOM FIELD: Hi, this is Tom Field, Editorial Director with Information Security Media Group. I am talking this morning with pandemic expert, Regina Phelps. Regina, thanks so much for joining me on quick notice this morning.
REGINA PHELPS: You are welcome, Tom, my pleasure.
FIELD: We are all waking up today to alerts from the government about the Swine Flu. What can you tell us about the alerts that we are hearing?
PHELPS: The alert that was issued yesterday on Sunday in the United States is a public health emergency alert. That particular alert has a very scary sound to it, but what it really does is allow the government to be able to re-deploy strategic stockpiles and also apply funding to support public health departments in this initiative to deal with this emerging health crisis.
FIELD: So Regina, we deal with financial institutions as well as government organizations. What do these businesses, these organizations, need to know today about the alert and about Swine Flu?
PHELPS: What they need to first of all do is they need to, before they actually even look too far externally, they need to do some introspection, if you will, internally as to what they have in place. And so I would encourage that they need to quickly make a quick assessment of their current pandemic plan.
So while they are reaching out to the common websites that we all know, which would be the World Health Organization, the CDC and also look at Pro Med Mail, which is an infectious disease society that is moderated by Harvard University, so the need to be immediately reaching out to those three websites. They also need to be looking at their local departments of public health in whatever location they are in. So as they are simultaneously doing that, there are about eight things they need to quickly jump on.
First of all they should pull out their pandemic plan and really make sure that it is complete. For many people, they haven't looked at it recently, and for some folks they are going to be behind the 8-ball because they may not even have one. They need to see what the inner workings of that plan are and also look at what the areas of immediate improvement are.
Secondarily, I would encourage all of your listeners to reach out immediately to their executives and get up in front of them, if not face-to-face then certainly by conference call, so they can be informed about what is going on and what the situation is, both here in the United States and abroad, and of course many bankers this morning if they were watching the financial markets saw the world markets begin to go downward again as this spread of a pandemic is looming.
I think it is also extremely important that they are subscribing to something like Pro Med Mail, which is a really well designed, well moderated infectious disease website that provides people with a ton of information and will allow them to keep their fingers on the pulse of this particular problem and your readers or callers can actually do that by going to www.promedmail.org and signing up for their daily digest.
The next really important thing to do is to prepare a quick and efficient communication that would be distributed to all staff that tells them exactly what is going on as far as they are concerned and that they are monitoring the situation very closely and that their pandemic plans are being evaluated and will deployed as necessary, and then they might also add some key points that they want to add in that communication about their pandemic plan.
Typically they really need to educate their employers. There are several really good websites that have great information on overall influenza. One of the them, if you go to the CDC website, they have An Ounce Of Prevention program, which is about hand washing, hygiene, infectious diseases, and that would be really good information. It is free, and it is downloadable, and you can be distributing it and posting it; it includes posters and brochures. Aetna, the insurance company, also has excellent employee training website that is on the web at no charge that talks about influenza and how you can actually educate yourself and your family about preparedness.
It is also a great opportunity to promote home-preparedness and getting people ready for an emergency, so I would encourage people to go to the FEMA website, which has excellent brochures and training information for all types of individuals, including businesses and that is at ready.gov. There a lot of really, really good information that you would find there.
Number seven, I would really encourage that people really need to look at the issues that they did not quite take care of in their pandemic plan. For example, there are many people that were looking to procure things like masks, gloves, hand sanitizers or cleaning solutions, and they were kind of waiting to see what would go on with the pandemic before they did that. So I would encourage people to look at that list of things that they want to procure and make a decision if they need to go forward, because the concern of course is now that the world is waking up to this there are many things that are going to be immediately not available, and masks, I will tell you, will be one of them right off at the very beginning.
And then lastly I think people need to really stay calm, and they need to be focused, and they need to get ready. We have been talking about this since 2003, and this is of course a big surprise coming from Mexico -- we expected, of course, places like Asia or the Middle East. And also the fact that it is so close to the United States puts people on much more heightened awareness and the fact that it has obviously spread so quickly. So people need to really take this seriously and know that the timing could go very, very quickly, and before you know it our pandemic has accelerated to significant levels.
FIELD: So Regina, help up put this in perspective. We certainly have talked about the Avian Flu before, and back in the mid-70's I recall there was a Swine Flu scare. How do we sort of separate hysteria we see in the media and the reality of the situation that we are in?
PHELPS: There is certainly, I am sure, a certain amount of hysteria in the media, but I think that the thing that any of your listeners need to be thinking about is that this is a very serious event. Currently right now, just this morning as I awoke and was checking the current health websites, there are already 1,300 people infected that are known cases in Mexico City, and the death toll now exceeds 100. There are probably thousands of more cases than that, and the fact that it has already pretty much distributed itself around the globe, which of course is very easy because influenza is so infectious.
I think there is a certain amount of hysteria that is in the news, but I think there are a lot of things that people need to be aware of so I think they need to just sort of, again, stay calm and focus and really get ready because this could be our next pandemic.
FIELD: What is appropriate to tell customers at this point?
PHELPS: I think what is appropriate to tell customers is again, use common sense and what we look at with common sense is we talk about disease prevention. So the idea about washing your hands thoroughly, making sure that coughs and sneezes are contained either into your shoulder or the crook of your arm or sneezing into a tissue, washing your hands.
The idea that people just have some common sense, if they are sick - stay home. And regardless of why they are sick, if their infection symptoms that are influenza-like or not. The idea is again, be smart, use good health hygiene practices and again, if you are sick or not feeling well or if anybody in your family is not feeling well, they should all be staying home. That is important message to communicate to not only your staff but also to your customers.
FIELD: Regina, one last question for you, what are the things that we should be watching for over the coming days and where should we be watching?
PHELPS: That is a really good question, Tom, and this really speaks to the issue related to infectious diseases overall. When you look at how quickly influenza can spread and the fact that people are actually incubating the disease and contagious for two days before they ever exhibit any symptoms, I mean literally that means that anybody around you has the potential to have an infection because they could have sat next to somebody in a restaurant last night who got back from Mexico or sat next to somebody who got back from Mexico, and the next thing you know is that disease has been transmitted.
So I think what people need to do is that in the next few days they just need to be really observant. They need to really take this seriously. They need to really do all of those things I mentioned earlier and know that this could move very, very rapidly as it has already in the last 72 hours.
FIELD: Excellent, Regina. I thank you so much for your time and for your insight this morning and wish you safe travels today.
PHELPS: Thank you very much.
FIELD: We've been talking with Regina Phelps about pandemic preparation. For Information Security Media Group, I'm Tom Field. Thank you very much.