Preparing for the Coming Superdemic
Advanced preparation is critical for successful adaptation
A future, super-sized pandemic, or “superdemic” — pandemic, epidemic, bioattack and major medical disaster — is all but inevitable. The past 10 years have seen H1N1 influenza, anthrax attacks, SARS, West Nile Fever, Bird Flu and more. So, it is unlikely that any future decade will be free of some superdemic event.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans for coping with a superdemic include
• restriction of travel and large group meetings
• discouragement of face-to-face interaction
• isolation of ill and exposed persons
• widespread distribution of therapeutics and preventatives
All of these strategies have significant impacts on scientific computing and automation. However, the key to successful adaptation is careful advanced preparation.
For example, as a result of the disruptions caused by the superdemic response, mail and package delivery are likely to be curtailed, and visits from repair personnel are likely to be restricted. This could adversely affect maintenance of scientific computing systems. In preparation, regularly replicated back-up copies of software and databases should be stored in multiple locations, including on-site and-off site (perhaps at the homes of key personnel). Vulnerable hardware, including but not restricted to system batteries, disk drives, modems, node connectors, printer cartridges and similar replacement components should be stockpiled for future replacement needs. Also, some critical components should be designed for redundancy. In an emergency, the decision to upgrade capacity with two separate chromatography systems rather than one high-speed unit may prove fortuitous should a system component malfunction.
Discouraging transportation will force increased reliance on communications media for teleconferences, videoconference, e-mail, texting and voice interaction. While these channels are probably in use on a daily basis, periodic evaluation for reliability, capacity and efficiency are appropriate. While a superdemic will not affect cell towers or fiber-optic cables, it may affect scheduled and emergency maintenance of these systems. In addition, restricted transportation to a home office may force a switch to a multiple location environment. Hardware and software will prove capable, but “humanware” may prove vulnerable, particularly with executives overly dependent on assistants for guidance. Investment of time in basic training and the preparation (and home distribution) of information sheets may make the difference between restoration of normal activity and a disruption of capabilities just when they are most needed.
And that need is likely to expand. In a superdemic, organizations with the capability of rapid and accurate analysis and screening are likely to be in high and immediate demand. If your laboratory or company is not involved in clinical testing, you may be asked to volunteer to help process samples. Developing protocols in advance, and training relevant personnel, may prove extremely valuable preparatory investments in case of a widespread medical disaster.
Finally, there are some important superdemic response steps that should be anticipated by all organizations, including schools, religious institutions, corporations, government agencies and scientific computer facilities.
These steps include:
• Maintaining staff medical records: Within the privacy protections of HIPAA, employee vaccination, allergy, and other relevant medical information should be securely stored for future emergency reference.
• Development of mobilization plans: A method of rapidly reaching all employees, perhaps through a call tree, e-mail blast or alternative technology (two separate technological solutions are best) should be developed and periodically tested.
• Development of work-at home plans: That rapidly disseminated emergency message is likely to direct employees to work at home. At home plans and policies should be developed and tested in advance, particularly when some critical scientific computer steps will require on-site monitoring while other analytical and interpretation efforts can appropriately be allocated to a remote location.
• Exploration of travel/conference/meeting alternatives: One potential CDC recommendation calls for cancellation of all gatherings of more than five people. No doubt schools and churches would be left scrambling for broadcast or podcast capabilities; business conferences will be looking for web alternatives; and other organizations will be seeking viable “workarounds.” The greatest success will accrue to organizations that have pre-developed plans and procedures.
A superdemic is highly likely, therefore, advanced preparation is critical. Analysis of organizational needs and capabilities are essential not only for adequate preparation but also for preparations that will allow exploitation of opportunities that will present to those organizations able to respond. The tactical actions that will allow an organization to survive a superdemic will also strategically allow that organization to meet some of the demand from others less prepared. The likelihood of a superdemic calls for the creation, exercise and review of plans. Think not only in terms of survival but identify the opportunities and become super-ready.
Sandy Weinberg is an associate professor of health care management and Ron Fuqua is an assistant professor of health care management at Clayton State University. They may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.