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Pandemic influenza - a guide for water plant owners and operators

What is pandemic influenza? A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. The disease spreads easily person-to-person, causes serious illness, and can sweep across the country and around the world in a very short time. Health experts agree that a pandemic will occur; it is just a question of when and it what form. Any planning for such an event will eventually be put to use.

What impact will a pandemic have?

In an affected community studies have shown that an outbreak will last about six to eight weeks. In a pandemic outbreaks may occur at the same time across the country and state and federal resources are expected to quickly reach overflow capacity. That is why all businesses and organization, including water treatment facilities, need to be informed and prepared. Employee absenteeism attributable to illness, the need to care for ill family members, and the fear of infection may reach 40 percent during the peak weeks of a community outbreak. Certain public health measures (closing schools and daycares, quarantining household contacts of infected individuals) are likely to increase absenteeism.

What can your plant do to prepare?

Owners and operators of water treatment plants need to prepare their own plans for continuing services to the extent possible during an event such as pandemic influenza. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have developed checklists for planning for pandemic influenza.

Planning For a Pandemic

Review and update your emergency response plan to address:

  • Reduced operational staff (consider additional automation, basic written instructions for essential equipment and activities, cross-training and mutual-aid agreements)
  • Problems with equipment and supplies, such as chemical deliveries (stocking a three month supply is recommended if possible, or maintain as large a supply as possible and identify back- up suppliers)
  • Problems with other utilities, such as electricity
  • Develop communication mechanisms and strategies with templates for public notices.
  • Conduct regular drills and exercises.
  • Coordinate with your local Emergency Management Agency.
  • Stay informed.
  • Encourage employee health and safety.

The checklists available at flu.gov [exit DNR] identify important, specific activities you can do now to prepare. Many are specific to pandemic influenza, but a number also pertain to any public health emergency.

Last revised: Sunday July 29 2012