White House Unveils Flu Pandemic Plan
Local Communities and Individuals Bear Responsibility
May 3, 2006 - The White House released a national readiness plan for
pandemic influenza Wednesday, telling
local and state authorities that they'll bear the brunt of responsibility for
protecting citizens in the event of an outbreak.
The 227-page plan lays out more than 300 recommendations for local
authorities, businesses, churches, schools, and individuals designed to lessen
the impact of a widespread flu outbreak. It urges
organizations and families to begin now in planning for a possible flu
Government officials continue to stress that a pandemic --
whether it is caused by the H5N1 bird flu virus or another
pathogen -- is unlikely, though entirely possible. Three major pandemics
crossed the world in the 20th century, including the Spanish flu, which killed
an estimated 25 million people worldwide.
Experts say that unlike a terrorist attack or a hurricane, a pandemic would
likely affect hundreds if not thousands of communities simultaneously, placing
many people out of reach of federal responders. White House officials said
Wednesday that their plan relies on local governments, businesses, and
individuals to shoulder the bulk of preparations.
"While the federal government has many responsibilities here, we cannot
forget that a pandemic occurs because of the spread of the virus from one
person to another. This means that individual actions are perhaps the most
important element of our preparedness and response activities," White House
homeland security advisor Fran Townsend told reporters in a briefing.
Congress has already agreed to spend $3.8 billion of $7.1 billion requested
last year by the White House for the plan. An additional $2.3 billion is
expected to be approved as part of a military spending bill tomorrow.
Townsend said a flu outbreak would spur federal
authorities to take the lead in such areas as limiting port traffic, monitoring
for infected international travelers, and communicating with the public about
Federal officials would also be in charge of distributing federal stockpiles
of vaccines and antiviral drugs, though Townsend said Wednesday that such plans
are not yet complete.
But the report also contains dozens of recommendations for businesses and
individuals, some new and some repeats of previous Bush administration
recommendations. In all, the plan urges people to prepare for large-scale
disruptions to daily life.
"We depend on everyone outside of the government to take this as
seriously as we do," Townsend said.
Individual households should consider building up stockpiles of water and
nonperishable foods that are easy to cook, the plan says. People should secure
supplies of medications or other needed personal items in case transportation
or distribution systems temporarily break down.
The White House also urged employers to establish policies for flexible work
schedules, including telecommuting and skeleton crews. Other parts of the plan
urge "social distancing" in workplaces and schools to minimize chances
for the flu virus to spread from person to person.