Enterprise security is always centered on service, be that for the government or a thriving corporation. The mission to uphold and protect laws, as well as the infrastructure of society, often requires heart and dedication. But happens when the world seemingly traverses close to the brink of madness, and the heart and dedication of those we hire to protect us falls into question? What potential catastrophe could bring our uniformed heroes to that state of mind? And how do enterprise security professionals ensure that if the worst should happen, they can sustain their operations indefinitely to ensure the safety of those they are called to protect?
The Nature of the Pandemic Beast
The word “pandemic” infiltrates our minds with thoughts ranging from mass paranoia to the latest zombie blockbuster series on television. There is, however, a horrifying truth to the word. There have been several pandemics throughout history. Many of you may have heard of the notorious “Black Death Plague” that devastated Europe in the 14th century, killing an estimated 50 million people (about half of the European population at the time) over the course of several years. Many in the world were gripped by the impending “doom” of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. But as serious and deadly as that outbreak was, it was regarded as an “epidemic” that mostly affected that region of Africa.
A “pandemic,” by definition, is a world-wide outbreak of disease from a highly virulent virus or bacteria that humans have never been exposed to before. The world experienced its most recent, and mild, pandemic outbreak in 2009 as the H1N1 Swine Flu virus swept the world in a very efficient fashion. However, every public health agency pandemic outbreak plan is modeled after the mother-load of all disease outbreaks – the 1918 Spanish Flu.
There is speculation exactly where the 1918 Spanish Flu originated, but its outbreak began at Fort Riley in Kansas during the latter part of World War I. The disease often violently and quickly took its victims, sometimes hours after patients exhibited symptoms of the flu. By the end of its siege, the Spanish Flu had infected up to 500 million people worldwide, taking an estimated 50-100 million lives. Although often not taught to modern-day students, the 1918 Spanish Flu remains the deadliest disease outbreak in recorded history.
How would the world today handle a pandemic of similar strength and virulence? It has been estimated that a pandemic of the same magnitude of the 1918 Spanish Flu could kill two million Americans and up to 400 million people worldwide.
Most preparedness agencies have drawn up plans to help respond to such nightmarish scenarios, albeit most plans fall short to effectively understand the magnitude of such a disaster. In terms of security alone, the mission to mitigate all of the foreseen consequences of a massive pandemic is jaw-dropping. Health officials have estimated that during such a highly transmissible disease outbreak, anywhere from 15-45 percent of the world’s workforce would be absent due to sickness or death. Imagine if 15 percent of workers would report absent only months into the initial outbreak. That’s 15 percent of commerce workers who would not be able to ship goods to grocery stores, providing basic staples that families need to sustain themselves. It could also shut down government agencies, schools, utility services, medical services and more.
Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP)
Dr. Barbara Reynolds, the key author of the CDC’s Crisis + Emergency Risk Communications manual and one of the agency’s leading external affairs experts, concludes that people seldom panic in high-risk situations of crisis. Dr. Reynolds is correct. Even in the direst circumstances of 9/11, the citizens of New York, Washington D.C., Flight United 93, and the many heroes in law enforcement and responding fire departments, organized themselves in the most effective and efficient manner that they could at the time. However, in the slow and decaying burn of a severe pandemic, it is highly plausible that even the most enlightened citizens could turn to extreme and desperate measures to feed their families when the grocery stores run out of food. Collectively, we may seldom panic in crises. Human nature, at its core, however, resorts back to the most rudimentary of “fight or flight” responses when in danger. As individuals, we often lose sight of the collective well-being and trade it, instead, for comfort at any cost.
This calls into question the pre-incident planning stages for enterprise security. Any law enforcement department is made up of a “force” that rotates shifts and personnel. But when that force is met with a 15-45 percent reduction in staffing levels, it operates ineffectively as it attempts to keep order and mitigate increases in crime and social unrest. Add to that the mental duress of the active workforce during a pandemic, and emotional insufficiency exacerbates an already growing crisis within the department. Without proper planning prior to what many health experts believe will be an inevitable pandemic within the next 10-12 years, enterprise security could be faced with this scenario in the future. Most governmental agencies understand the specific nature of “Continuity of Operations.” But many of them often fall extremely short to plan for the magnitude of a severe pandemic, resembling the veracity of the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak.
Breadth and Depth
When developing a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), it is important for enterprise security to expect the most extreme of worst case scenarios. Planning with this mindset is the nature of the preparedness, so it is important to note that the duration of a pandemic may extend beyond 30 years and occur in multiple waves. Knowing who should and could fit in specific roles when absenteeism on the force increases is a daunting, yet vital, task of an exhaustive COOP plan.
Additionally, “Orders of Succession” enable a predefined transition of leadership. While typical Orders of Succession are “three-deep,” pandemic planning usually calls for a “five-deep” order of succession. This increase is reflective of the potential destructive power of a severe pandemic, and should continue to underline the thought processes of pandemic planning.
It is important to revisit enterprise security’s essential functions, such as maintaining the safety and well-being of the population, as well as sustaining the industrial and economic base during an emergency. These essential functions are not only a priority for the security organization, but the society that they have promised to serve and protect. It is not enough to ensure the safety of civilians, but also the security of commerce to allow for economic vitality so that communities continue to function during a severe pandemic.
|Estimated Deaths, 1918 Spanish Flu||1918 Population||2017 Population||Equivalent deaths at 2017 population|
|United States||675,000||103 million||327 million||Over 2 million|
|Worldwide||50-100 million||1.8 billion||7.5 billion||194-389 million|
In comparison to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, as population density and methods of travel continue to increase, a highly-pathogenic pandemic today would make the 1918 Spanish Flu pale in comparison.
Personal hygiene should be at the forefront of any Continuity of Operations Plan. Specific techniques to reduce person-to-person interactions, as well as proper health etiquette, should be taught to all personnel. The “Catch-22” is obvious. Security personnel work within the public where interactions are a normal requirement of the job. How, then, can physical interactions be reduced and trained for? The truth? You can’t. But extra precautions can be taken by wearing additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as face shields, respirators (as minimal as N-95 surgical masks) and latex/vinyl gloves. The underlying mission, though, is to help ensure social distancing measures within the community to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading.
To avoid spreading the virus within the workplace (including vehicles), extreme effort should be made to thoroughly disinfect phones, keyboards and workplace items. Ensuring that doorknobs, kitchenware, switches and common area items such countertops and desks are clean is also necessary to mitigate the spread of disease within the workplace. Offering no-touch trashcans, paper towel dispensers and plentiful hand sanitizer dispensers can also be extremely helpful to lessen the spread of the virus.
However, the most important measure that any organization can take is to effectively educate employees on proper hygiene and cough etiquette, such as coughing/sneezing into one’s elbow, using disposable tissue paper and staying home if they are sick. A thorough and basic knowledge of handwashing using soap, warm water and vigorous hand scrubbing for a minimum of 20 seconds should not only be a reminder for employees, but trained upon methodically and routinely.
The world faces disease outbreaks on a daily basis, but no disease outbreak has the potential to claim as many lives as a highly pathogenic influenza pandemic. Although the world dodged a bullet with the 2009 H1N1 Swine flu pandemic, the adage “it’s not if, but when” has scientifically held true throughout the history. The next highly pathogenic flu pandemic is lurking somewhere in the recesses of the world.
Time will tell if it will mutate into a disease that could decimate the earth the same way as did the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Many health officials believe that one will occur within the coming decade. If and when it arrives, it could very well change the course of the world, and it will be up to many agencies to weather the storm the best they can. At this stage, pandemic planning officials only have solid theory to base their plans upon since no severe pandemic has breached society since 1918. But many theorists believe, as well as many organizations such as the CDC and World Health Organization, that Continuity of Operations is not a plan to write and place upon a dusty shelf. Rather, it is the life-map to ensure that society at all levels maintains that which we hold most dearly in times of darkness.