AMU Emergency Management Health & Fitness Infectious Diseases Opinion Public Safety

The curve is flattened, now what do we do?

While some pockets of the United States have noted increased cases of COVID-19, much of the spike in cases and the EMS calls that were supposed to happen have not. Does that mean we can go back to normal? Does it mean we can stop planning? Neither should be the case

Systematic Re-opening

Many municipalities are beginning preparations for re-opening and determining what actions need to be taken for each step. Like the shutdown, we will be unable to flip the switch and have all actions occur in a week or less. To ensure that we continue to have a successful flattening of the curve, we must use a risk-benefit model to create the timing of the actions. One may consider using a Gannt chart to show timing and how this timing is related to other actions, such as the actions of the state government. In my case, we are in a Tristate region. Fortunately, we collect the number for the region to make informed decisions, but we will have three states that are all performing different actions. As we have noted from the Georgia example, any given state could decide to be at an extreme. This can make our situation worse, as we have many stakeholders that will receive many messages. We all have employees that are ready to take a vacation with their family, we have others that may be caring for their elderly siblings and want to remain socially distant and work from home, while we may have some employees that have become accustomed to working from home and can not see why this could not become permanent.

Tying your plan to a particular state, preferably the one your municipality resides within will be key, as everyone is an expert, and everyone knows nothing at the same time. With this I mean that we have the power of the internet that allows anyone to Google their way to being correct, but since very few in the world were alive in 1918, none of the experts have actually seen their theories put to the test. It is guaranteed, based on the protests that are already occurring, that people will be passionate about their thoughts. Afterall, people have more than a month of idle time to think and become passionate about their thoughts

What’s Next

A quick search of the 1918 Pandemic will show that there were three waves of the illness. The fist, which are in was the smallest spike of illness. The second was the largest ta and exponentially worse than the first wave. This is because the sociological factors that are beginning to present today, such as the lack of economic spending, the isolation felt by many, and the desire to return to normal are all driving the decision-makers to speed the re-opening. You are even beginning to see local governments pass legislation requiring the opening as fast as possible. This is understandable, as most of the country’s businesses are small businesses that do not have the reserve capital to sustain closure for much longer. The small business issue is compounded by all of the people who have filed for unemployment, coupled by the passing of the stimulus packages. If we fail to open the economy, we will eventually collapse our economy.

Once the above factors force open the economy and we have no vaccine in place, the spread will happen as it should have in the first wave if no precautions were put in place, This spread coupled with the fact the hospitals are furloughing medical staff, the government officials have stopped all of the planning and preparation efforts, and the testing will not be as wide spread as needed to ensure we quarantine quickly, thus the exponential spike seen in the 1918 example.

To combat this, first response organizations and emergency management organizations must continue to monitor, keep their archive plans that were developed during the first phase, and communicate to employees that we will likely return to the same state we have been under for the past couple of months. This reverse transition will be tougher, especially if it happens during the summer month when people vacation with their families and want to visit their friends. These factors compounded by the calling wolf syndrome from the first wave will place executives in a real battle to regain the status of the measures taken in this first wave.

Be prepared and communicate the future now. Worst case, we won’t have a second wave, but we will be prepared to serve the community if and when it does occur.

Dr. Randall Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. From a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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