Emergency planners prepare for pandemic

The possibility of a flu pandemic brought the Emergency Management Planning Working Group (EMPWG) to the Davis Center last week to host a forum to educate students in the event of an emergency. The forum was designed to get feedback from the students as well as increase awareness about this imminent outbreak. EMPWG outlined the worst-case scenario of a flu pandemic.”Everyone’s going to be affected by this,” Turgeon said. “Even in best case scenario, tens of thousands of people in the U.S. could die and hundreds of thousands will re?quire medical attention.” Co-chairs Al Turgeon, executive assistant of UVM’s financial planning office, and Estelle Maartmann-Moe, former director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing have been working to develop UVM’s strategy in the event of an emergency. “I think we’re making a lot of progress, the only problem is that it’s a very complicated issue when you get right down to it,” Maartmann-Moe said. “We’ve never gone more than 42 years without a [national] pandemic, and now we’re at that 40-year mark.” “Education is the most important thing,” Maartmann-Moe said. “A pandemic will occur again.” “Everyone’s going to be affected by this,” Turgeon said. “Even in a best case scenario, tens of thousands of people in the U.S. could die and hundreds of thousands will re?quire medical attention.” H5N1, also known as the avian (or bird) flu, is the most likely candidate to start a pandemic. “All pandemics have come from birds.” Maartmann-Moe said. The EMPWG has four major steps to handle the University and the student body in case of a pandemic outbreak: 1. Education prevention2. Travel Restrictions3. Social Distancing: banning large group gatherings4. Isolation Quarantine”We probably have the most thorough effort underway to respond to a pandemic, out of any institution in the state, and we would probably rank in the top 25 nationally,” Turgeon said. “I think the students have a lot to feel good about.” Nearby schools like Middlebury have decided to completely close down during a pandemic. “We’re not going to go there,” Maartmann-Moe said. “We would suspend class?es temporarily [and] we’re going to try to teach classes remotely,” Turgeon said. Apart from educating, the EMPWG has been structuring a “comprehensive group” of SGA and faculty to coordinate and execute the complex strategy. “The trigger for us to be thinking about sending students home is a case of where there is human to human to human transmission, in large numbers in an international city that has an international airport.” Some students, like junior Joe Castano, fear that “there is nothing we can really do to stop this.” “We’re a major institution in this state,” said Turgeon. “UVM President Daniel Mark Fogel has made it clear that if UVM were asked to support Federal and State and Local communities, that we will, as best as we can.” The EMPWG has taken on Pandemic Planning as the first emergency in a series. Other emergencies, like ice storms and power outages, are on their future agenda.