Preparing in Case of Bird Flu Outbreak - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

03/24/06

Preparing in Case of Bird Flu Outbreak

St. Augustine, Florida, community leaders and business owners are taking a crash course in emergency preparations in case the bird flu hits home. St. Augustine, Florida, community leaders and business owners are taking a crash course in emergency preparations in case the bird flu hits home.

The bird flu continues to spread around the world, infecting and killing birds--even people--in eight countries. So far, at least 103 people have died from the avian flu. Right now, researchers are checking out some new cases in Cambodia.

Fortunately, the deadly virus hasn't spread to the United States, but medical experts don't want to take any chances. They're hoping to educate the public before it's too late.

Around the country, many emergency management groups are holding classes, like Avian Flu 101. Right now, they're targeting businesses, preparing people for the worst while hoping for the best.

In St. Augustine, Florida, community leaders and business owners are taking a crash course in emergency preparations in case the bird flu hits home.

Audrey Heffron is an instructor with Florida State University's Disaster Risk Policy Center, a group which provides crisis training.

"The clock is ticking we just don't know what time it is," she said. "And we believe there is going to be a pandemic, we just don't know when we're going to have to deal with it."

While not everyone agrees a pandemic is inevitable, it's her job to prepare for the worst. Heffron says bird flu in the US, should it spread to humans, could bring the American economy to a near standstill.

"What would we do if we only had 40 percent of our workforce at a given time?" she asked. "We can barely begin to get our minds around what could happen."

And a new study shows that only about half of American corporations are willing to get their minds around what could happen. Of the companies surveyed, only 48 percent are considering a plan. Only 15 percent actually have a plan.

"We're looking at employee wellbeing, how to keep our employees healthy through this potential pandemic," said Dr. Sol Sax, the chief medical officer for Dupont. "We're looking at business continuity.

Dupont is one of the few corporations with an actual bird flu plan. The biggest concern: making sure its 30,000-member US-based workforce can get to, and function at, work.

Audrey Heffron says there's still plenty of time for companies to prepare, if they just approach the planning now. "They need to be asking themselves the things they would be asking themselves when preparing for any disaster."

Government studies estimate that a bird flu epidemic could cost American businesses $675 billion. Others say it may cost as much as $1.5 trillion.

Locally, the health department is working with the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency on a contingency plan for our area. They are making out checklists for schools, businesses, and families on how they should be planning in case the pandemic flu hits.

Also, epidemiologists are holding classes with area organizations, trying to educate people on the avian flu.

Send you questions and comments on WTOC health reports to Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com.

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