sick person

Avoiding Pandemic Paranoia

Billy Gordon Green, Jr. M.Ed., CPP, CHSCompliance, Crisis Management Planning, Security Program Development, Training

sick personTwice during the past decade and a half, the specter of pandemic has been a cause for prudent worry in the public health sector, among business continuity planners, and certainly within the security community. Security professionals would not be tasked with reducing the impact upon the public or generally with providing for the continuity of operation for a large corporation, campus, or agency.

The security manager and planner would, however, be responsible for planning and implementing contingency security operations in the face of epidemic conditions or pandemic threat. The mission and role of the security department is ancillary to the direct mission of most all organizations. As such, the security planner is concerned with the effect that widespread disease would have on the ability of the security organization to fulfill its mission of protecting the personnel and assets of the parent organization.

The effects of a pandemic or epidemic upon an organization and subsequently on the security group depend on the business and mission of the larger entity. For instance, a healthcare facility such as a hospital would be impacted exponentially. Not only would the organization’s internal casualties make it harder to deliver services, the external client/customer system would be greatly expanded as the illness spreads through the population and they seek help from the healthcare provider. In the same way – although to a lesser degree – health care suppliers would see demand for products and equipment increase dramatically while they too were trying to cope with increased activity with a workforce affected by the disease.

The demand for security services in the chaotic conditions a pandemic or severe epidemic could create within the healthcare delivery system would be substantial. The threat would also be significantly increased as valuable and perhaps limited medical treatment and drugs become potential targets for crime or lead to possible breakdowns in public order in the clamor to receive lifesaving medical help. This may sound a little like a doomsday movie script, but security professionals and law enforcement authorities are fully aware that civilized society is held together by the thinnest of threads, and under the right conditions, they may fray or break completely.

Faced with all this, the security manager must respond with the necessary services and infrastructure to safeguard the parent organization, no matter what the business. As with planning for catastrophic emergencies, which a pandemic certainly is, there must be preparation to stand alone by predicting the impacts on the security organization and planning realistically to meet those needs in a contingency manner, with fewer people and little infrastructural support because those agencies and companies will be affected too.

It is not the security organization’s job to maintain business continuity or deliver services to the client or customer. It will be security’s job to protect those who will be trying to do so, while facing the same impediments. It will require a contingency plan that rebalances the integrated security formula toward non-human assets. It also will require an accurate assessment of the intensity and duration of the pandemic or epidemic.

All past pandemics have involved Influenza A viruses. These viruses that cause influenza are much more easily spread among larger groups in the population because of the nature of transmission as aerosols and the respiratory characteristic of the disease. Whether or not other viral and bacterial disease can become that virulent when confronted with modern medicine and public health practices remains to be seen. The experience with Ebola has suggested that while it is contagious, it may not have the capacity to spread like influenza has in the past. Time will tell. There are historical data and scenarios that can be examined and studied to identify and gauge the effects of widespread disease on healthcare, service, and production organizations. We can learn from history, hopefully so we do not have to repeat it. Security professionals do not treat disease, but we can study the effects it may have of the organizations and the population in order to prepare as best we can to provide the envelope around our organizations so that they can continue to function during the crisis.

As with any threats, the prudent security professional should research the threat and be familiar with the potential for such a threat developing. Historically, the development of pandemic or severe epidemic disease has a run up period during which it becomes apparent that a problem is looming. It does not have the sudden onset of catastrophic weather or a terrorist attack. Forethought and modest advance planning in advance will provide the foundation for more precise preparation and decisive response should the problem intensify.

The following sources can be used to better understand and prepare for this kind of emergency.

About Pandemics from
Pandemic Influenza from CIDRAP
Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic from OSHA

Always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Plan. Protect. Prosper.

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