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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Sept. 21, 2007

Planning for a pandemic

by Annette Hacker, News Service

Imagine a scenario in which classes are suspended for several weeks and tuition revenue is lost. Employee absenteeism reaches 40 percent. Essential services are hampered. Half of your supplies aren't available. And people you know are sick and suffering.

That's difficult to contemplate, yet that's exactly what the 57 members of Iowa State's Pandemic Flu Task Force have been planning for over the past year. Environmental Health & Safety coordinates the activities of the task force, which includes participants from throughout the university and Story County.

The task force has developed a draft plan (at that covers issues such as continuity of operations and services, funding, emergency personnel, human resources, stockpiling and personal protective equipment, infection control and medical services, and suspension of classes/activity/travel.

Your input needed

Now the task force needs your help. How would your department or unit operate if the university had to suspend operations for seven to 10 weeks during a pandemic? How would you communicate with others? Upon whom do you depend internally and externally to function? What resources would be needed to recover and resume full operations following a pandemic? What would those resources cost?

These questions and more will be addressed in an Emergency Plan template developed by the task force's Policy and Administration Work Group, led by residence department director Pete Englin. The template was modeled after a similar document at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The work group sought input from ISU vice presidents, worked with Information Technology staff, and tested the template with a dozen faculty members before launching it this week.

"We're asking that each academic unit, department and college develop its own emergency plan for a potential outbreak," Englin said. "We need to drill down and have individual departments and units identify their activities should Iowa State close for several weeks due to a pandemic."

The Emergency Plan template is available for everyone in AccessPlus under the uBusiness tab. The deadline for completion is 5 p.m. on Oct. 19.

Deans and department and unit heads who need assistance in completing their emergency plan may call EH&S at 4-5359 for help. Information Technology also developed an online informational video as part of the "Talk About IT" series ( that will guide deans and department and unit heads in completing their emergency plans.

Each college, department and unit will identify essential functions in their emergency plans. As part of the planning process, some employees will need to be designated as emergency personnel. These include anyone whose duties are essential in:

  • preserving critical university research
  • avoiding jeopardy to research organisms
  • assisting in the local, state or national response to a pandemic.

After individual units complete their emergency plans, the Policy and Administration Work Group will begin to generate reports and will coordinate and schedule training exercises.


What, when, where, who and why

A pandemic, or widespread epidemic, could be caused by the avian influenza virus or other highly pathogenic flu strains. Three influenza pandemics occurred in the last century - the worst in 1918, when Spanish Influenza claimed the lives of 675,000 in the United States (51 at Iowa State). Subsequent outbreaks in 1957 and 1968 were much less severe, but tens of thousands still died.

No one knows when the next pandemic will occur, but public health experts say another outbreak is likely. Since 2005, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have urged states, counties and communities to plan for the possibility of a pandemic. Colleges and universities may be among the most vulnerable during an outbreak, because they have large centralized populations, some community members travel internationally, and most students are between the ages of 15 and 35 - the group public health experts predict will be most affected by the next pandemic.