Homeland Security Takes Lead in Flu Pandemic Pointing to Compensation Programs

 The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) has emerged as the lead agency in directing a response to the potential swine flu pandemic. The agency is following a well defined plan published in 2005 to respond to the threat in an effort to secure the Nation's critical infrastructure and key resources (CI/KR). The viability of business in the US remains a critical aspect of the plan and the workers' compensation system is critical tool in the implementation of the response.

 

The threat is defined as serious. "The (1918 Spanish Influenza} epidemic killed, at a very, very conservative estimate, 550,000 Americans in 10 months; that's more Americans than died in combat in all the wars of this century." Alfred W. Crosby, Influenza, 1918, The American Experience.

While pandemics are unpredictable, the USDHS has estimated that the disease attack rate will be 30 percent in the overall population during the pandemic. The agency estimates that an average of 20 percent of working adults will become ill during a community outbreak. Multiple waves of the disease will occur with each lasting 2 or 3 months.

The approach taken by the Federal government will be to assess the threat and direct coordination with the State agencies. A fundamental part of the plan is to provide psychosocial support and meet the informational needs of the workforce and develop contingency plans for absenteeism, especially among health department groups and develop workforce resiliency.

As the situation unfolds, workers' compensation programs will be tasked to new limits. Much is unknown, "...We are telling everyone to prepare for a pandemic. It's tricky....This is scary and we don't know....That's the message." Dick Thompson, World Health Organization. By directing ill workers to appropriate compensation programs, the USDHS has taken the initial steps necessary to respond to changing conditions and rumors.