The Secretary of Homeland Security has testifed that in responding to the outbreak of H1N1 the administration is following the National Pandemic Strategy and Implementation Plan. In today’s Washington Post it is reported, “The Obama administration has relied on a Bush-era public health strategy aimed at coordinating its response across an array of government agencies in the week since the first reports of a swine flu outbreak emerged, officials say.”
The Strategy and Plan highlights “three pillars”: 1) preparedness and communication, 2) surveillance and detection, and 3) response and containment.
In terms of our state of preparedness, in February 2009 the Government Accountability Office released a report entitled Influenza Pandemic: Sustaining Focus on the Nation’s Planning and Preparedness Efforts. Among several other findings, GAO highlighted the following:
Leadership roles and responsibilities need to be clarified and tested, and coordination mechanisms could be better utilized.
Efforts are underway to improve the surveillance and detection of pandemic-related threats, but targeting assistance to countries at the greatest risk has been based on incomplete information. Steps have been taken to improve international disease surveillance and detection efforts. However, information gaps limit the capacity for comprehensive comparisons of risk levels by country.
Pandemic planning and exercising has occurred, but planning gaps remain. The United States and other countries, as well as states and localities, have developed influenza pandemic plans. Yet, additional planning needs still exist.
Further actions are needed to address the capacity to respond to and recover from an influenza pandemic. An outbreak will require additional capacity in many areas, including the procurement of additional patient treatment space and the acquisition and distribution of medical and other critical supplies, such as antivirals and vaccines for an influenza pandemic.
Federal agencies have provided considerable guidance and pandemic related information, but could augment their efforts. Federal agencies, such as HHS and DHS, have shared information in a number of ways, such as through Web sites and guidance, but state and local governments and private sector representatives would welcome additional information on vaccine distribution and other topics.
Performance monitoring and accountability for pandemic preparedness needs strengthening. Although certain performance measures have been established in the National Pandemic Implementation Plan to prepare for an influenza pandemic, these measures are not always linked to results.
In terms of surveillance and detection, perhaps a post and comments made yesterday provides a good summary.
In terms of communication, response, and containment… well, it is ongoing and available for our observation and analysis.
The three strategic pillars could be applied to most (all?) homeland security risks. The GAO findings – with some modest editing – might also be applied to most (all?) homeland security risks: natural, accidental, and intentional. If not, I look foward to your disagreement and clarification.
But to the extent the last several weeks have exposed our risk readiness for pandemic flu, what might we reasonably conclude regarding our broader level of risk readiness? So far, where are we doing the best? Where did we fail to meet expectations of the plan? What are the gaps in the plan? As you look at the plan, our current condition, and what may be ahead, where are you most concerned?
Without disrespect to the illness and death that has already occurred, we can nonetheless see this emerging situation — slow-moving as most crises go — as an opportunity to examine our overall readiness. What can we learn?
(EDITORIAL NOTE: An anonymous reader submits a news-breaking — if off-topic — story by the ever-vigilant Daniel Fowler at CQ (access below): “Sen. David Vitter has placed a hold on the nomination of Craig Fugate, President Obama’s choice to serve as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”)