Pandemic Planning for Healthcare Security

By Kory L. Sandoz, CPP

There is really no question about the likelihood of another flu pandemic. History shows that we have had at least ten flu pandemics in the past 300 years. What we can’t predict is when and how hard it will strike. We learned a hard lesson from Hurricane Katrina: we are on our own during the initial stages of any emergency. Local resources will have to be relied upon. Federal and even state assistance cannot be depended upon. During a pandemic these problems will be even worse. Illness will cross borders and become widespread. This could mean that assistance may never be forthcoming, which makes advanced planning that much more essential.

Many believe that the most likely virus to cause the next influenza pandemic will be the H5N1 Avian Influenza virus. This has become widely known as “bird flu.” This virus has shown the ability to kill humans. There is a concern that it could possibly evolve into a strain capable of causing a pandemic. Most governments and healthcare facilities, as well as some private companies, are drafting action plans for when the next pandemic strikes. It is essential that healthcare organizations have a plan in place for the medical aspects of a huge patient influx associated with a pandemic. But what about the security departments of healthcare facilities across the USA? Having a solid plan associated with the security of healthcare facilities and operations is arguably just as critical as the medical portion.

Americans believe that a hospital is a safe place to go in an emergency. It is a large facility that is open to the public 24 hours a day. They know there are likely to be various local officials available there in the event of an emergency. Moreover, hospitals are where people are taught to go if they are sick or injured. The unfortunate reality is that medical facilities are just not going to be able to meet the demand for services in a pandemic situation. Imagine a dozen or even a hundred sick, frightened, and increasingly frustrated people outside your doors. The potential for anger escalating to violence is a very real possibility that we as security professionals need to address.

Here are some numbers to consider when drafting a pandemic plan. The largest Influenza outbreak in recorded history is the Spanish Flu outbreak that occurred between 1918 and 1919. An estimated 500,000 people died in the United States during this outbreak. The worldwide death estimate is between 20 and 100 million people. To give you an idea about the numbers of people who will become ill in a modern day outbreak here are two examples. The State of Utah estimates 1 million ill. The State of Minnesota estimates approximately 1.5 million. It is generally accepted that once a pandemic flu strain is identified it will take 4 months or more before a vaccine is developed. Once that vaccine is available it will be in short supply.

These large numbers of people who are ill will create a variety of security concerns for health care organizations. Here are a few potential problems you may want to review. Consider if they could apply to your organization.



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