Many Americans are watching as the stock market reacts to the concerns over a global coronavirus pandemic. A search on Amazon will reveal medical masks are sold out and the online retailer has invoked “price gouging” restrictions on its vendors. The question exists: “How will America respond and what will be the outcome?” However, for Americans this is not the first time we have had to respond with a strategy to protect our citizens against the threat of a deadly disease.
In 2005, the United States was facing a similarly serious public health challenge, the threat of an outbreak of pandemic influenza. The concern was an influenza virus strain with potential to cause a pandemic outbreak, and that it could emerge with little or no warning. On November 1, 2005, President Bush issued the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza and Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) followed with the release of the HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan.
In January 2006, Gordon C. James Public Relations was tasked by the Department of Health and Human Services with implementing a series of pandemic workshops to take place in all 50 states and territories of the United States, in response to the Pandemic Flu. Between January and July 2006, HHS held 65 summits on pandemic influenza preparedness throughout the United States with state, local, territorial, and tribal government leaders.
The purpose of these summits was to clarify the roles of federal, state and local, tribal and territorial governments in pandemic preparedness and to work together in conveying to the public the notion that being prepared and responding effectively involves all levels of government. A key element was the shared responsibility held by all levels of government to play critical roles in strengthening the ability of our nation and its citizens to prepare for, and respond to, this kind of public health threat.
The very first of these events was held in Phoenix, hosted by then Gov. Janet Napolitano and Will Humble, the director of Arizona Department of Health Services at that time. Through this series of localized events HHS communicated key preparedness messages and fostered a dialogue with state and local officials, as well as other stakeholders. Local, state, and federal agencies were now in communication with each other, allowing for greater coordination of efforts on a national level.
Today, the United States is much better prepared to deal with the current crisis because of the Bush administration’s decisive steps taken in 2006. It is apparent that the current administration is dedicated to protecting Americans and building on the foundations laid 14 years ago. America rises to every challenge and while we cannot diminish the virility of this disease, we can know that we have successfully tackled issues like this before and will do so again in 2020.
Gordon James is founder of Gordon C. James Public Relations in Phoenix.