Friday, July 06, 2007

American Pandemic Preparations Slow To A Crawl

News about the dangers of a bird flu pandemic in the human population of the United States has dropped out the news cycle in the past few months, so the vast majority of Americans, and their community, city and state leaders have lost interest in planning for such an eventuality :
Last November, Gartner Inc. analyst Ken McGee gave a presentation on the risk of an avian flu pandemic to an audience of IT professionals at a conference in Las Vegas. He concluded with this recommendation: Complete your pandemic planning by Q2 of 2007.

This year's second quarter ended on Saturday. But despite his admonition, McGee believes that few IT organizations are ready for a possible pandemic.

"Most clients would not be prepared if this descended upon the world tomorrow -- they just simply would not be ready," he said. "I think it's just part of the human condition: You don't put the stop sign up until after the traffic accident."

McGee is as concerned as ever about the threat of a pandemic, but he's worried that fears are waning in the U.S. And, he said, he's afraid "that people will learn the hard way that they cannot respond to a pandemic situation once it has been declared, because everyone will be trying to do that and nothing will get done."

The declining level of concern cited by McGee was backed up by poll results released Monday by Ipsos Public Affairs, a research organization that has offices in New York, Washington and other U.S. cities.

Ipsos conducted an online survey of 1,438 U.S. residents who are over the age of 18. When asked about the issue of avian flu in the U.S., 27% of the respondents said they were "concerned" -- down from 35% in a similar survey last year. Forty-one percent said they were "not concerned," compared with 31% a year ago.

The Ipsos poll received almost no news coverage, according to a Google News search. Indeed, one of the poll questions asked, "How much have you read, heard or seen about bird flu?" In 2006, 74% of the people who were surveyed answered "a lot/some." This year, the percentage of respondents who chose that answer fell to 56%.

Scott McPherson, CIO of the Florida House of Representatives and head of the Florida CIO Pandemic Preparedness Committee, tracks news about the avian flu on a daily basis. He can quickly cite the most recent mortality rates or list recent incidents, such as the death of five swans and a goose in Germany due to the H5N1 bird-flu virus. McPherson said he's mystified by the lack of attention that the threat is getting in the U.S.

He contrasted that with the level of interest that the avian flu gets in countries such as Indonesia. "If you live in Jakarta, this is all you think about it," McPherson said. "If you live in the United States, all you think about is Paris Hilton. What the heck has happened to us?"

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