Podcast featuring Dr. Kevin Kupietz, Faculty Member, Emergency & Disaster Management
Despite experiencing smaller outbreaks of infectious diseases like MERS, SARS, and Ebola, the United States was ill prepared to respond to a pandemic. In this episode, Glynn Cosker talks to AMU emergency and disaster management professor Dr. Kevin Kupietz about the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the gaps between planning and action, how the spread of misinformation has hindered public response, as well as some of the potential positive long-term outcomes like improved continuity of operations for schools and businesses.
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Read the Transcript:
Glynn Cosker: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I’m Glynn Cosker your host. And joining me today is Dr. Kevin Kupietz, who has spent more than 30 years working in the field of emergency management and as a faculty member at American Military University. In addition to teaching, he has been a firefighter and a paramedic for more than 20 years. So Dr. Kupietz, how are you today?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: I’m doing great. I hope you’re doing good. So we are having the remnants of Zeta pass overhead. So if you hear some wind noises, that’s all that is.
Glynn Cosker: Indeed. What a crazy hurricane season we’ve had. I was talking to our colleague Dr. Christopher Reynolds a few weeks back on the podcast about how many hurricanes we’ve had. There’s always a lot when you get up into the Greek alphabet, of course, which is where we are now. So hopefully it won’t be too bad where you are.
But today, we’re going to discuss the coronavirus pandemic. Obviously it’s been the topic of conversation throughout 2020. And it’s going to be the same in 2021 I am sure of that. But we’re going to talk about it from the angle of emergency and disaster management.
So as of today, and we’re recording this in late October, there have been almost 9 million cases of COVID 19 in the U.S. resulting in more than 228,000 deaths. And the daily deaths are starting to creep up again a little bit nationwide.
So Kevin, using the current pandemic as a case study, how did the country do with regards to pandemic preparation, and what should our preparedness look like in the future?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: It’s kind of interesting that before COVID hit, the United States was actually ranked as the number one country prepared to deal with such an issue. And then when we look at the numbers, when you look at the worldwide numbers, unfortunately, we are actually at the top of the list when it comes to deaths and outbreaks.
So something happened between the planning phase of where we thought we were and the actual implementation of that. And that is where we really need to spend some time looking at to focus on so that when the next pandemic happens, we’re better prepared in a realistic state than thinking that everything’s going to be fine because we’ve done A, B, or C.
We probably need to be testing more. And the funny thing is, is that we do these tests, we do tabletops. Most counties are required to do tabletops on a regular basis to be able to get the mass prophylactics out there, to be able to do the vaccinations of testings on mass scales.
But COVID kind of caught us a little bit off guard in several different ways that those plans and tests that we had done didn’t really come to fruition the way that we thought they should happen. So it’s an interesting point.
Glynn Cosker: It is interesting. And it’s interesting to me because having a pandemic in America, it was always a question of when it was going to happen and not if it would happen. We’ve got contingency plans at the federal level for multiple disasters, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, you name it. And there must have been a plan for a pandemic.
So what went wrong in your mind that we came into this, like you said, as the number one prepared country to deal with such a thing, and we’ve come out or we haven’t come out of it yet, but we’re looking as though things aren’t going so well? What are your thoughts on it?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Well, when we start talking about trying to prepare for any kind of emergency or disaster, we’re going by what we think is going to happen. We go by what we think the consequences, what the response will be, what people will do, what the political climate will be. And all of that is great and fine in theory. But then when the rubber hits the road, it doesn’t always happen that way.
So you’re right. We did have a plan. We had several plans. And this is not the first time that we’ve had to deal with this kind of issue. The last time we dealt with something on this scale was the flu of 1918.
But we’ve had some really close calls in the recent future. When you look at SARS, and MERS, and Ebola. Just a couple of years ago, we were all in a panic over Ebola in Africa. And we ended up with a few cases here in America. And we went through a tremendous amount of planning at the local levels to try to make sure the hospitals were ready, to make sure that EMS agencies were prepared to transfer that Ebola patient. To be able to do lockdowns, and quarantines, and isolations, and all the decontaminations.
And luckily or unluckily, whichever way we look at it, Ebola really never got a good strong foothold in America. So I don’t think that we were tested to the point that we are now.
So the SNS, the Strategic National Stockpile for example, most of us in emergency response, we know about the SNS and we know that they’re there to have this wonderful capability to provide medical equipment and personal protective equipment, and medications, and all of this stuff, to areas that need it.
And as a responder, as a paramedic, I am used to wearing N95 masks. I’m used to wearing the face shield and the double set of rubber gloves and all that stuff. And I’m used to throwing it all away. If you would’ve asked me two years ago if I would ever reuse an N95 again, I would’ve looked at you and thought you were crazy.
But what it came down to is one of the issues that we ran into is that we didn’t have this unlimited supply of personal protective equipment as one example of where we just didn’t follow the exercising and the thought experiments, I guess, far enough out to be able to say this is when we run out of PPE. This is what’s going to happen when everybody in the country is having to fend this off, or everybody in the world is having to fend this off.
So I think the failure was probably in preparedness. And a little bit of that failure might’ve been in our past successes in the fact that we were pretty confident that we could nail anything that came in before it got too bad. And we’ve made that mistake in history before. So we have to be really careful that we don’t make that mistake in future history.
Glynn Cosker: I agree with you. Absolutely. And it’s intriguing to me that like you said, when Ebola virus came to this country somewhat randomly, and it was contained in the hospital in the area where the patient was. But there was a plan that was written up for an Ebola virus pandemic or something similar.
I think what makes COVID-19 a little bit different is that yes, it’s quite contagious. Well, it’s very contagious I should say, very infectious and contagious. But at the same time, you don’t get the immediate symptoms.
So as we’ve seen all year, there are people who could be walking around who feel perfectly fine. But all they have to do is touch something, sneeze, cough, anywhere in public, grocery store if they’re not wearing a mask or wherever. Then someone else who is going to get symptoms and might get severely ill or even die, can pick up the virus.
So as far as stopping the spread, how do you think the country has done over the past 10 months in stopping the spread by wearing masks and taking all the social distancing into consideration? Where do we stand?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Again, that’s a hard question to answer. When you look at the numbers, the numbers tell one story. When you go out in the streets, hopefully that tells a different story. When you talk about the country’s resolve or the world’s resolve on being able to solve that, I think that tells a third story. And the truth is probably somewhere in between all of that.
So when we look at the infection rate itself, the infection rate of coronavirus, it’s like 2.3. So what they’re saying is that every individual that contracts coronavirus, they have the potential to actually give that to 2.3 people.
So every time we can pull one of those positive people out of the equation, that’s 2.3 people that they’re not infecting. Then that’s 4.6 people that they’re not infecting, and so on so forth. So the numbers cascade very, very quickly.
So I think we took some of those steps really well in the fact that we did do isolation and quarantine. Quarantine of course for people that we think may have come in contact. And isolation of course, for those people that are tested positive for and/or sick.
But again, there was a little bit of an unknown there that we weren’t ready for, we hadn’t given enough thought to. Typically when we think about diseases or things being infectious, we can usually see it. Temperature is usually a really, really good indication. And most illnesses that we have, they’re not infectious until we have those signs and symptoms.
And you’re right. COVID was a little bit of a surprise there for us. Because now we’re realizing that a person can actually be infectious for typically 48 hours is what we use for contact tracing to be able to infect somebody else before they actually have those signs and symptoms.
And then of course, we have those people that never have signs and symptoms. And we’re not really sure still as to how infectious those people are. If they’re infectious the entire time that they have the COVID while they’re not symptomatic, or they’re not. So we don’t really know.
And there are other illnesses and diseases that are transmittable before that. For example, the mumps is probably one of the biggest ones that we know about. The mumps can be transmitted four days prior to a fever. So that means that somebody is walking around and they’re actually contagion with that.
Some of the COVID numbers are kind of interesting. So when you look at that 48 hours, one of the things that they’re saying is that most of the infection that someone gives to someone else or the most infectious time that they’re at is that day that they’re actually going to become symptomatic or that day before they become symptomatic. And that’s when they become the most infectious. So I think that one kind of caught us a little bit off guard with that.
The other thing is we still really don’t know everything that we need to know about coronavirus. So there’s been a lot of speculation, a lot of I hate to use the word misinformation. But you got to really look at the numbers.
Here we are, we’re in a Master’s degree program. And the biggest thing that we try to teach our students is critically think and be able to look at the facts, look at the data, look where that data came from. So when we talk about the spreading of these germs.
And for a while, people were scared because there was a couple of reports that came out said coronavirus can live up to 21 days, I think, one report said on a surface. But that wasn’t a perfect laboratory setting. And there was not a test to be able to see if that was enough coronavirus to actually be able to infect somebody.
So I hate to avoid your question, but it’s really a loaded question that we don’t know all of the answers to. But we’re trying to get a better handle on this. And actually, for years to come, we’ll probably look at COVID and try to figure out exactly what the extent of the damage is or will be to people that may be even had it.
Glynn Cosker: Right. No, I guess in that regard, the one positive that we might take from all of this is that if COVID-23 happens in a few years from now, for instance, we might be able to, well we’ll definitely be able to look at it and say, “Okay, well this is what went wrong the last time, and this is what we did right.”
But you’re right about the misinformation, obviously. Everybody’s on Facebook and Twitter and everything, social media every day. And the feed comes in, and you see all these alarming things. And you’re right, I remember seeing that alarming headline which said that the coronavirus can stay on a surface for 21 days. And I was thinking coins, a counter top, a shopping cart.
And I still would have thought that had you not just told me the facts, which is that it was in a perfect laboratory setting and it was on a perfect surface, and there might’ve been a lot more virus on that surface than you’d get on the shopping cart. So that is a major problem, isn’t it? This misinformation that’s out there.
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: It is. And the misinformation is for a couple reasons. Social media can be a great platform to be able to get information out timely. Emergency management, we use it regularly, try to feel the pulse for what’s going on in the community, but also to send out our message. But it can also be that double-edged sword. It can be that curse as well when you start talking about the misinformation that can be given.
One of my favorite examples of the misinformation was there was a huge Facebook issue for a while where they were saying you should not wear masks because masks will give you Legionnaires’ disease. And that one was just totally, totally wrong. So one of the things that we did with our students and stuff is we actually started posting out there on Facebook the facts, and actually citing our facts.
So that’s another problem that we have when we start talking about misinformation. A lot of times, the facts aren’t cited so that we can actually go back and look at them like we teach our college students to do when there are normal papers.
The professionals aren’t doing that. So we can actually go back and look at how did they come up with this in the laboratory? What does this really mean in terms of real life?
So if you look at what the CDC puts out there right now, they’re saying that the primary mode of transmission for this of course is that face-to-face contact, less than six feet, for more than 15 minutes.
But now they’re also saying that because we don’t know everything, that the potential is there that you can get it from picking up the virus on your hands and then rubbing your hand in your eye, or your mouth, or some other kind of mucus membrane.
And they’re saying that even with pets, we’re not sure about that. They’re saying there’s not been a case that we can prove yet. But we do know that the pets can carry the virus, and maybe it’s possible that we get that.
And there are people that have come down with coronavirus that we’re not exactly sure how they got it. So the potential is still there. But when we talk about the vast majority of it, it is that face-to-face contact that we know how to protect each other about.
And with the misinformation, I think a really important thing that we have to look at is why the misinformation is there. But also we have to look at why are we not trusting the CDC, for example?
The CDC for decades has been that revered organization that we trusted, that we believed in. And then all of a sudden with COVID, because some of the things that came out of the office, a couple of the missteps maybe they made in the beginning or a couple of things that they really weren’t sure about in the beginning. Some of that trust I think eroded.
But I saw an interesting study where someone actually looked to see who the public would actually believe. Because there’s a lot of controversy over the vaccine and the craziness about putting a spy bot in the vaccine where they can track you and stuff like this.
But the study actually asked people, “Who do you trust? To take a vaccine and somebody told you to take the vaccine, who would you trust?” More than 50% of them said that they would trust their local healthcare provider, which is good.
Most people said that they would still trust organizations such as the CDC and the WHO, the World Health Organization, and the Center for Disease Control. What was interesting was is that more people answered that they would not take the vaccine if politicians tried to get them to take it than if nobody told them to take it. So that kind of goes to the whole trust issue.
Glynn Cosker: Yes, it does. I think I know who I’d be trusting if somebody told me that they had a vaccine in their hand, and that would be the health officials that you mentioned.
The vaccine is one thing, and it’s being promised to us practically every other day. It’s just around the corner. But realistically, I’m not sure it’s going to be here anytime soon. And we are approaching the flu season. Now of course, the flu season kills on average about 40,000 people each season. And that’s without COVID-19 interfering with it.
And the winter months are going to be a very interesting time, because we’ve been looking obviously at what’s happened since March and April. But then it’s just each month after March and April in most of America, it gets warmer and warmer and warmer. And now we’re entering the time in most of America when it gets colder and colder and colder.
And viruses love the indoors, which is where everybody’s going to be when it’s cold. And they’re going to be having their heat cranked up. So the mucous membranes in the nose are going to start to get a little bit more bloody to use a nasty term. But it’s true. I mean, it’s the truth, and viruses love blood too. So what are we going to do that’s different as we approach the flu season, do you think?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Well again, when we look at the whole COVID thing, this is something that we should have been prepared about. When we look at the numbers for the flu, the numbers for the flu really have not changed in several decades. And again, the flu is an airborne virus just like COVID is.
So hopefully what’ll happen is that we’re maintaining our social distancing. We’re doing the masking when we’re supposed to. We’re washing our hands, we’re doing those three W’s. And hopefully by lowering the number or trying to lower the number of COVID, hopefully that’s going to lower the number of the flu as well.
But a huge point here that I really hope that people take after we’ve conquered this COVID thing. I hope people will go back and look at this and say why aren’t we doing this for every pandemic?
So just like you said, the flu kills anywhere between 20 and 65,000 people every single year. And we’ve come to accept that. And for whatever reason. Yes, COVID, the fatality rate is higher. It’s like a 3.1 compared to the fatality rate of the flu of 0.1.
But, we need to be thinking about how can we transmit or how can we keep some of these good habits that we’re actually doing now, and how can we keep them in place in order to be able to reduce the number of flu that we have, or other infectious illnesses that we deal with every year that keep kids out of school, keep people out of work, so on, so forth?
Just the whole idea of with COVID, we’re saying, “If you’re got a temperature, don’t come to work.” In fact, employers were even saying, “If you’ve got a temperature, don’t come to work. I’m not going to let you in.”
Why weren’t we doing that with the flu? How many times have we had organizations that were seriously crippled for days or weeks because they had a flu outbreak in their plant, or their facility, or in their school? And that was okay. We didn’t think much of that.
So I’m hoping in the long run that what we see is that the flu numbers will actually be down this year. But it’s going to be interesting to see if those type of precautions that were taken for COVID are actually going to help us with the flu or not.
It’s also kind of interesting to see when you look at the hospital numbers. The fact that the typical person right now doesn’t want to go to the hospital or to go to the doctor’s office, because they’re afraid they’re going to get sick there.
So if someone does have the flu symptoms which we do have treatments for, are they going to recognize it soon enough? And are they going to get the treatment soon enough? Or are they going to not? And then they’re going to be past that window that we can treat the flu, and they’re going to become iller. And the consequences are going to be more severe for them.
Glynn Cosker: Yes. The point about the flu for me, and I agree with you 100%, is that the flu has been around for centuries. We’ve had the Spanish flu, like you mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, in 1918 was when it peaked. We’ve had Asian flu, we’ve had Hong Kong flu in the 60s. We’ve had all these different strains of flu.
And the common garden variety influenza, whichever strain it might be this winter, it’s going to be there. And like you said, it’s important to see those flu numbers. Because I agree with you. We are all able now to work from home. It’s not anything new. We’ve been able to work from home for a long time. But now, because of Zoom taking off, students don’t have to go to school. People don’t have to go to the workplace. Like you said, the employers are saying, “Don’t come in.”
Now had we employed those sorts of tactics over the last 10, 15 or 20 years that it’s been possibly capable to be doing these sorts of meetings. Why weren’t we doing it?
And if we can learn anything from this, it should be let’s just keep doing it. Why wouldn’t we continue all of these precautions, even when COVID-19 is a thing in the past. Because by doing it, we aren’t going to protect ourselves from the flu, measles, the mumps, and all these other infectious diseases. Right?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Yeah. And a lot of what we’re doing right now is cultural based. So I think that’s one of the issues that we’re having with it. You and I weren’t brought up in a culture that is the COVID culture now. We weren’t brought up where you wash your hands every time you touch something. In fact, my parents thought it was all right that you ate some dirt in fact. What was that old saying? You had to eat a pint of dirt before you turned 18 in order to be able to fight off the other infections.
So I think there are some differences that we have to look at. And hopefully we’re raising a generation of kids that will become adults that are going to be more conscious of that.
The one thing we have to make sure in order to be able to do that though is we hope that a vaccine does show up for COVID. We hope that the lessons that we’re learning here aren’t forgotten like they were for the Spanish flu. We hope that we don’t think well we beat that, so we beat H1N1, we beat SARS, so we don’t have to worry about the next one. If some of these things were in place, I think we would be in a better position to be able to implement some of this stuff.
So I hear people all the time talk about China. This disease happened in China, and China’s at the bottom of the list when it comes to deaths. And United States is at the top. And we think that we have a better healthcare system. And we think that we have better handle on this stuff.
But some of the things that are in the Chinese culture kind of predispose them to be able to hit this quicker. I don’t want pollution in our air like what they have, but it’s nothing for them to wear a mask over there on a regular daily basis.
Here when we ask people to wear a mask, that was a huge culture shock. In fact, right now, it’s still a huge culture shock to a lot of people. So somehow, we have to bring the next generation to realize some of this stuff is all right to do, and it may be actually healthy to do.
Glynn Cosker: Absolutely. And I’m a logical person, and I’m sure you are obviously in your line of work. And logic to me says that wearing a mask is a no brainer. And you mentioned China. Well, look at Japan too, and South Korea. When you look at the size of those countries and the amount of people per square mile compared to the people per square mile in America, Japan and South Korea barely got any kind of infection rate. I mean, they had the infection rate, but their numbers were much lower as far as the cases and the deaths.
And the reason is, in my opinion, because people were 100% almost following all of the precautions. And like you said, it’s not uncommon for people to wear masks if they’re worried about air pollution.
Now I’m not sure how many people percentage-wise walk around any U.S. city wearing a mask, just because they’re worried about air pollution. Not many I would think. And I’m not sure that’s going to change unless the government changes the practices that are out there right now.
And the way they could change it, and of course it would be at a state level—I doubt that it would be at a federal level—but each of the states, they could implement rules and regulations just like they did this year for COVID to say, “Hey, you know what? All these signs on the floor which say keep six feet apart, and all these signs which says you need to wear a mask to come in here, and you need to wash your hands, and you need to use this, and I’m going to check your temperature.” If it can be done. And I know there’s money involved and expense, but if it can be done, just keep everything in place because it’s not going to hurt the situation by keeping it in place.
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Yeah. I think there’s some simple things that we can actually continue to implement. Why do we not have hand washing stations or alcohol dispensers in the stores when we go and we’re touching different things? That’s something that’s fairly easy to put up and to maintain.
I have to say, I’m hoping that we don’t have to wear masks forever. But there are some other things that we can do. The social distancing thing. There really is no reason why we have to cram bunches of people into small areas like we do a lot of times.
Again that cultural thing, we’re used to standing in line back to back to back. Do we really need to do that? Is there really a purpose in that? Or can we just kind of spread out a little bit, give each other a little bit of room?
So I think there’s some really simple things in here that we can do. I don’t see that there’s a problem with having employees check their temperature when they come to work or before they even come to work, ask them to do that.
Again, anytime they have an infection, there’s a good possibility that they have an illness that’s going to be infectious to others while they actually have that fever. So why would we want them on our plant floor where we could actually have other people become sick and then we lose our productivity?
So I really do think that there’s stuff like that. When we look at this as the case study and we move forward for future pandemics, that we look at that.
The other thing that we really need to look at is what has worked for us well and what did we really struggle at with COVID-19? So in the past, H1N1, almost all businesses and industries put together some kind of response plan. What is going to be our continuity of operations business plan if people get sick? The avian flu, the SARS, all of this stuff was done.
But I know so many businesses and organizations that when COVID hit, they weren’t ready for it. And I asked them, I said, “Well where’s your H1N1 plan. Where’s your pandemic plan?” Because really we don’t want an H1N1 plan or COVID plan. We want a pandemic plan. How are we going to respond to whatever that infectious illness is?
And they’re like, “Well it just didn’t quite fit. So we’re just going to run the whole thing over from scratch.” But that takes time. And time is something we don’t have in these instances. And I think that’s one of the things that happened to the world is that we thought we had a little bit more time with COVID. And then come to find out, COVID was probably running around a little bit before we knew about it. And that’s probably what caused us to not have control of it from the get go, like we did with Ebola, or MERS, or H1N1.
Glynn Cosker: And it’s worth pointing out, of course, that we got “lucky” with, if you can say that, about this particular pandemic. Because yes, this is the worst pandemic that we’ve had in U.S. history other than the Spanish flu, of course. But the point is that here it is, and it’s something that is quite contagious, but not as deadly as Ebola or some other strain of deadly virus, a hemorrhagic fever type.
How would we have dealt with that? I mean, how would we have dealt with something as deadly as Ebola? And what can we do to make sure that on a county level, state level, federal level, we’re ready for the next pandemic? Because the next one might be something like Ebola, which is really contagious. And the mortality rate is closer than 90%.
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Yeah. And people get really upset when you say that. When you try to make that point that this could be a lot worse. And I understand that. This is one of the issues that we have in our country I know for sure.
People either kind of, they’re all about, “We need to be safe. We need to make sure that we’re taking care of COVID.” Then there are those people that really don’t believe it. And then you have some people in between. And that perception I really believe is based on what their experiences has been with that illness or that disease.
So for example, I was deployed at different places trying to help with the COVID response with the national response team. It is really disheartening when you see people younger than you that look healthy and they’re dying from this disease within a couple of days.
When you see the family members outside the hospitals waving flags, and doing dances, and holding up birthday cards for their relatives hoping that they’ll see them because they’re not able to come into the hospital. Those are the types of things that we need to think about and make sure that we actually understand that. And unfortunately if we don’t experience it, there’s a different level of perception.
So we talked about the fact that COVID-19 has a 3.1% mortality rate is what they’re estimating at right now. We talked about the flu being probably about 0.1%. We don’t know for sure, because we really are not required to report the death as a flu. It’s usually as a complication or something like that.
But when you look at Ebola, the mortality rate for that if you look at the WHO website, they claim it at about 50% because the numbers range anywhere from 25% to 90% mortality rate. But even at a 25% fatality, that’s a huge bump up in number of the 3.1% that we’re dealing with now.
So we have to be looking at the future and saying okay, COVID is bad. We have a lot of deaths with COVID. It’s surpassed the normal flu season deaths. But, what if that next one is going to even be worse? What are we going to do?
And first to do that, we have to have that pandemic plan in place. And we have to be ready to know that we’re ready to actually initiate what that plan is.
So I think we had some issues with that at the beginning as well. So we did have a plan in the United States on different things to do. We had an idea of quarantining and isolating. But even if you go back to the cruise ships when they first came in, there was a lot of fighting politically and illegally to keep the quarantine areas out of different locations. Because the communities there were scared of the fact that they didn’t want to bring these people that potentially had this new disease into their community.
So therefore, if you look at Costa Mesa for example, the judge put an 11-day injunction on deciding whether or not they could put COVID passengers contacts—they weren’t even in cases—contacts into the city for 11 days. So by the time you had them in there for 11 days to make your decision, their quarantine of 14 days was almost over.
So we have to be able to look forward. We have to be able to say okay, this is our plan. This is what we’re going to do to implement it. And we have to have the fortitude I guess, to be able to follow through on that. Because, I agree, there are definitely people out there that would disagree with this, but I agree with you in the fact that there are potential scenarios that are much, much worse than the one that we’re facing now. And we need to be better prepared for that.
Glynn Cosker: We do. Eight, almost 9 million cases of something that has a 3.1% mortality rate. If there was 9 million cases of something that had a 50% to 90% mortality rate, the deaths, we have 228,000 COVID-19 deaths. I can’t even contemplate what that would be like.
Okay Kevin, let’s move on to the continuity of operations, which is a great subject that we can work into this discussion. What are your thoughts on that going forward? Where do we stand on a local level, a state level, a federal level? What do you see happening in the future if this thing gets worse?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Hopefully it won’t get worse. But I think that what we’ve seen is we’ve seen that organizations have realized that there has to be alternative plans.
So in the emergency management world, we call this a business of continuity or continuity of operations planning, COOP. And the whole idea with that is, is that if something happens, no matter what that something is, that the business is able to continue on or the organization is able to continue on with at least its core mission, and be able to be able to survive the disaster.
So typically, we think of a disaster as a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a fire. Something that is relatively short lived and compared to this pandemic that we’re dealing with that is going to go well into the next year. So we’re nine months in. We’re going to probably be well past a year by the time we conquer this.
So there has to be this operation. If you look at the numbers right now, Forbes I think it was the other day. They actually reported that, they’re saying it was 997,000 businesses that they know have gone out of business and will never reopen now.
If you look at the New York Times, they’re talking about over 100,000 businesses. And some other organizations are saying, “We can’t even calculate. It’s just unfathomable to think about how many businesses will not be able to survive and reopen from this.”
And when we think about the small and medium businesses being 60% of the employment for any normal community, this is going to be a huge hit that we’re going to be having to deal with for years. And in some cases, generations.
So the continuity of operation goes again, back to what we’re talking about. We have to be planning for this pandemic. and it’s not just the government that has to be planning. It really needs to be everybody that’s planning.
Because the businesses and the organizations, if they want to be able to survive that disaster. Whether it be a tornado, a hurricane, or a pandemic, they have to be able to figure out what that plan is.
I think a prime example of us not being prepared for continuity of operations is when we look at our K-12. So when we look at our educational system, they had to go to alternative learning styles is what they called it in the spring semester of last year. And the colleges, higher education were for the most part ready for that because a lot of our students do online education.
But the K-12, that wasn’t something that they were ready for. And I think that showed last semester, and I think we’re seeing some of this again.
And the question I’ve always had is when people talk about snow days for school, is why do we have snow days? Why do we not have a continuity of operation for our school systems where the schools kids have an assignment to do? If they can’t come to school, then we have something for them to do.
So now, one of my classes is raising the question, why do we not have built into the school year a remote learning day where we actually practice doing remote learning so that if something does happen that we can’t go to school because of snow, a fire, pandemic, whatever, that the teachers and the students are actually more prepared, we’ve actually tested the systems with that?
So I think continuity of operations is incredibly important as part of that planning process. I really think that what you’re going to see is emergency management has always been considered to be that job that is the local, state, or federal job.
And we know in the field that we have a lot of private industries that have those professions. And I think what we’re going to see in the near future is we’re going to see a really high demand for people with emergency management experience to try to be able to help the smaller-sized organizations be better prepared to make sure that they’re able to survive these type of events.
Glynn Cosker: Absolutely. But I got to tell you, I think my 13-year-old son is not going to be happy about hearing the no snow days suggestion. But it’s true that there is no reason why now, and what’s happened in the past 12 months has proved that things can continue with the right apparatus in place, and the right plan, and contingency operations in place, things can continue as normal or semi-normal. And there’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen in the future.
Now speaking of the future, we have an election coming up. As I said earlier, we’re recording this in late October, just a few days before the election. And if there was one thing obviously that affected the race for the White House in 2020, the only thing really has been the response to coronavirus. So what are your thoughts on that, Kevin? How has it been perceived by each side of the political aisle?
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Well, it’s interesting that you talk about that because both sides have their story to it. In emergency management, we might have to remember to try to be as apolitical as possible. We don’t make the policies to be involved in politics, in theory, is not part of our job. Although we know that politics dictate what happens on our job regularly.
The whole idea of whether we did a good job or a bad job, of course that enters into the political debates of who should be the next president, senator, congresswoman, even down to the mayors, you’ll hear some of this stuff being talked about.
But I think the real impact that this has had is on the electoral process itself in the fact that here we are with COVID, we can’t have these huge crowds at the voting stations on one particular day like we’ve had in the past. So we’ve looked at ways to overcome that.
So if you look at the numbers from the early polling, I know North Carolina, we’re at 53% of the registered voters have already voted. And when you look at other states, we’re kind of there already.
Voting. When I went to vote, it was clean. There was a woman standing there with a rag. And just as soon as you walked away, she was wiping that stuff down. They were on top of that. So I think that goes to a long way to show what that resiliency is, how we can actually think about what are our core missions that we have to do in order to be able to keep the process moving the way that it needs to. And we can continue to move forward with that.
Now also remember that the COVID-19 thing is this huge complex issue. That it’s a lot more than just being able to vote. It’s a lot more about who has what stance. At the end of the day, somebody has to make that decision over the safety versus the economics of things.
Luckily as an emergency manager, that’s not my decision to make. But that’s going to be the hard decision that someone’s going to have to make down the road. So to say that this has had an impact on the politics of 2020, I think that’s a certainty.
Glynn Cosker: So this might be the prototype for future elections as well. I don’t see any reason in the future why this sort of thing couldn’t keep going, because it is safer in the long run.
And you mentioned earlier that it’s part of our society that people are pretty close together. In crowds, they’re walking around, they go to sporting events, they go to concerts, they sit next to each other at work, and at lunch, in the cafeteria at work. And it’s a very close-knit society that we have. And this has fundamentally changed all of that.
I mean, we are going to be living in a post-COVID world, and our children are not going to know much different. And there’s some positive things to take from that. Because a post-COVID world will have hopefully more things in place, more precautions in place that could prevent people becoming infected and dying not just from coronavirus, but from other diseases as well.
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Yeah. I often wonder what my grandchildren or my great-grandchildren will think when they look back at pictures of people wearing masks 20 years ago. Are they going to think that that’s a normal thing or are they going to say, “Wow, those people were really weird back then?” So it’ll be kind of interesting to see.
Glynn Cosker: It will be interesting to see, won’t it? It’s going to be an interesting decade for sure. Well Kevin, I think this has been a great discussion. I want to thank you for joining me today on the podcast. And I hope to have you as a guest very soon in the near future. Thanks for joining me.
Dr. Kevin Kupietz: Absolutely. And thank you for having me. Anytime we get a chance to talk about preparedness and planning, we have the opportunity to save lives and property, it’s always a good day. Thank you.
Glynn Cosker: This is Glynn Cosker. I’d like to thank you for joining us today and listening to this podcast. And stay tuned for the next one in the coming weeks.
About the Speaker
Kevin Kupietz, Ph.D., is a firefighter and paramedic by trade with more than 20 years of experience. He has taught in traditional classrooms as well as in online formats for more than 15 years. He is an adjunct faculty for the graduate program of Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University. He currently is a full-time emergency management faculty member at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU). He also serves with the Roanoke Rapids (NC) Fire Department, RRT1 hazmat team and NC1 DMAT. He received his Ph.D. in human services, MS in occupational safety, and BS in fire engineering. In addition, he is an Executive Fire Officer (EFO) graduate.