Imagine that an infectious disease has made its way from Africa to the Philippines and has now become a severe pandemic. Philippine society must cope with the debilitating effects of disruption in such critical sectors as telecommunications, banking, transportation, water and sanitation. This is the scenario that Philippine public- and private-sector leaders face throughout a four-day Multi-sectoral Pandemic Disaster Exercise, Sept. 10-14.
A pandemic has greater potential for affecting population morbidity and mortality than any other existing public health threat. Unlike geographically limited disasters, like flooding, international assistance in a pandemic is often limited because resources are overwhelmed.
“We know that new serious infectious diseases, such as SARS, Bird Flu and Swine Flu, are constantly emerging. We must consider ways to mitigate the impact and limit the damage before a pandemic event occurs with more serious impacts than the last one,” says Dr. Noel Miranda, Regional Technical Advisor, International Medical Corps’ PREPARE (Pandemic Preparedness) Project. As the lead agency for PREPARE, a coalition funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), International Medical Corps works to strengthen the capacity of the least resourced countries in Africa and Asia for multisector disaster management and pandemic preparedness planning.
While we cannot predict the nature, timing or severity of a global outbreak, training and exercise programs, like this one undertaken by the International Medical Corps’ PREPARE team, can help countries prepare for the worst. “Given the interconnected world in which we live, the risk of a pandemic is ever present and poses a serious non-traditional security threat,” says Nicholas Studzinsky, Senior International Public Health Advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
During the four-day simulation exercise, more than 175 national, regional and local government and business players are prioritizing specific activities that will save lives and support societal infrastructure in the event of a global health disaster. Participants are focusing on the important elements of good governance, such as emergency management protocols, essential services that support societal infrastructures, and risk communications.
The Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), in collaboration with the PREPARE Project, has pioneered an innovative approach to whole-of-society disaster preparedness planning. This involves formally structuring essential service sectors’ technical working and management groups and encouraging key public and private actors to plan and respond more cohesively, with the aim of alleviating societal disruptions and human suffering.
The interactive nature of the exercise format lends itself to strengthened relationships, the valuable exchange of information and improved planning among the participants who would not normally work with one another until a disaster occurs.
The exercise is the culmination of preparedness planning over the last year and is unique in its integrated public-private collaboration and partnership. Leading up to the exercise, the PREPARE team and others worked on an innovative pilot project that was implemented for the Santa Rosa City. Leaders from that municipality are testing and refining their plans over the course of the exercise.
The added benefit of the exercise framework is that the approach can be applied to other national and regional slow-onset disasters, such as the one that recently ravaged Manila.
The Philippine exercise was led by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) through its secretariat the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), in collaboration with essential service sectors and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), International Medical Corps, the United States Pacific Command, United States Marine Forces Pacific, and the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine.