Smithsonian Updates Employee Plans, Purchases Supplies In Preparation For Swine Flu Pandemic
Amid the uncertainty about whether the current swine flu outbreak will be declared a pandemic, the Smithsonian Institution is taking steps to ensure that it can implement its pandemic emergency response plan if that becomes necessary, says Nancy Bechtol, director, office of facilities management and reliability.
Step one was to update staff phone numbers in the pandemic response plan. After that, staff schedules were developed based on different scenarios. If a pandemic is declared, the Smithsonian might be closed to the public but staff might still be expected to work. Or the buildings could be closed to staff as well. “I know how many people I need here depending on what scenario I’m in,” says Bechtol. “We’ve also been doing a lot of telecommuting preparation.” For example, it will be important to ensure that accounting functions can be handled remotely so that staff can be paid.
Another step was to begin purchasing supplies. If a pandemic is declared, the Smithsonian would start dispensing anti-viral sanitizing solutions in public areas, encouraging visitors to clean their hands when they enter the building and when they leave it.
“We’ve purchased supplies,” says Bechtol. “We’ve noticed vendors limiting supplies. That’s already happened this week.” Supplies of hand sanitizers, anti-bacterial soap, gloves and paper facemasks are tight, she says. “There’s a definite run on that stuff.”
The Smithsonian developed its pandemic response plan in 2006, prompted by concerns about avian flu. “We wrote those plans to apply to any pandemic that might present itself,” Bechtol says.
The plan has five levels. “We are not even level 1,” says Bechtol. “Level 1 is when a pandemic is declared. They’re waiting for human-to-human transmission that is outside the family circle. It may not be a strong enough germ to do that.”