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Handling the Future Outcome of the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

While some pockets of the United States have noted increased cases of coronavirus infection, much of the anticipated spikes 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 our emergency planning? Neither should be the case.

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The Systematic Reopening of the Economy during This Pandemic

Many municipalities are beginning step-by-step preparations for the cautious and gradual reopening of businesses and determining what actions need to be taken for each step. Like the pandemic shutdown, we will be unable to simply flip the switch and have all of the necessary work 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 a practical plan for action. One possibility is to use a Gannt chart for planning purposes. This type of chart would clearly show tasks to be undertaken over time, when those actions were taken, who performs the work and how that work relates to other actions, such as the work of a state government.

In my case, we are in a tri-state region. Fortunately, we collect the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases for the region’s governments to make informed decisions. But ultimately, there will be three states with three governments who are all acting in different ways.

Georgia, for example, has decided to move ahead and reopen some non-essential businesses despite the continued risk of coronavirus infection; other state leaders may take similar action. But this choice could worsen the coronavirus situation, because many stakeholders will receive mixed messages about what actions are appropriate to take.

Some employees are now restless and ready to take a vacation with their families. Also, others care for elderly siblings and want to remain socially distant while working from home. Similarly, there may be some employees who have become accustomed to working from home and cannot see why this state of affairs could not become permanent.

Tying your planning to a particular state, preferably the one in which your municipality resides, will be key to bringing the spread of the coronavirus back under control.

The Future of the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Tested Our Expertise

Although there are plenty of health experts to forecast the future, the current pandemic is ultimately unpredictable. Passionate protests are occurring as people long to go back to their normal lives.

A quick Google search about the 1918 flu pandemic shows how a previous pandemic played out, according to National Public Radio. This pandemic occurred in three waves:

  • Spring 1918: The first wave and the smallest spike of disease cases
  • Fall 1918: The second and largest wave, which was exponentially worse than the first wave in terms of infection and deaths
  • Winter 1918: The third wave

The second wave was much worse than the other two waves due to the same sociological factors that are appearing today. These factors include the lack of spending, the need for the economy to return to normal and the social isolation felt by many people. The desire to return to normal is driving decision makers to speed the reopening of their economies.

Some local governments are even passing legislation requiring openings to occur as fast as possible. This action is understandable, as most of the country’s small businesses do not have the reserve capital to sustain closure for much longer.

The urgent need to reopen small businesses is compounded by all of the people who have filed for unemployment and the passing of government stimulus packages. We have to reopen the economy soon. If we don’t, it will eventually collapse and we will have more problems to handle.

But once businesses reopen without a coronavirus vaccine in place, a major spread of the coronavirus could happen just like the second wave in the 1918 flu pandemic. Coupled with the facts that hospitals are furloughing medical staff, government officials have stopped all of the planning and preparation efforts, and the testing will not be as widespread as needed to ensure we quickly self-quarantine, the number of confirmed cases could rise again.

Maintaining Coronavirus Pandemic Planning, Communication and Preparation

To combat the coronavirus threat to public health, first responder and emergency management organizations must continue to monitor the situation. They should keep their archive plans that were developed during the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic; they should communicate to their employees that there could be a likely return to the same stay-at-home quarantines that have occurred during the past two months.

This reverse transition back to self-quarantine will be tougher, especially if it happens during the summer months when people traditionally take a vacation with their families and want to visit their friends. Executives will face a real battle to get citizens to revert back to the precautionary measures taken in this first wave of coronavirus infections.

Be prepared, and communicate the potential future of the pandemic now. With luck, we won’t have a second wave of COVID-19 cases, but we will be prepared to serve our communities 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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