Sept. 19, 2008

Campuswide plan prepares Cornell for pandemic flu

For a variety of reasons, many people are becoming complacent about the threat of pandemic influenza. The fearful outbreak that health experts have been predicting for years has not yet happened. New flu vaccines are being developed and governments are stockpiling anti-viral medications. Is pandemic influenza still a real concern?

Absolutely.

"Complacency is enemy number one when it comes to preparing for another influenza pandemic," says Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Cornell officials concur.

"Most experts believe that the occurrence of pandemic influenza is not a matter of if, but of when," said Janet Corson-Rikert, M.D., executive director of Gannett Health Services.

"Even if the pandemic, when it does occur, is relatively mild, planning for it still has many benefits," said Richard McDaniel, Cornell vice president for risk management and public safety. "Work done on pandemic planning will equip us to address any serious emergency of similar scope and length. Development of the pandemic plan is part of our university's comprehensive approach to emergency planning and response."

Corson-Rikert, McDaniel and Vice Provost John Siliciano lead a universitywide steering committee that has developed a preparation and response plan that establishes parameters for planning and provides specific guidelines governing campus functions if a pandemic does occur, available online at the Office of Emergency Planning and Response Web site at: http://www.epr.cornell.edu.

"Planning ahead for potential disruptions to research and instruction is very important," Siliciano said.

Aspects of the plan are already in action. Cornell has already embarked on an ongoing campaign to educate the campus community about the pandemic threat and flu prevention. Gannett has a Web site with timely information at http://www.gannett.cornell.edu/pandemicFlu. Free flu shots are offered every year to students, faculty and staff. A pandemic flu working group meets regularly to refine the plan, incorporating input from emergency planners across campus.

"The pandemic plan is a living document that will be adjusted as federal guidelines evolve, campus and community strategies and policies are defined, and events unfold," Corson-Rikert said.

The pandemic plan outlines what essential services will be maintained and which facilities will be used for well-student housing, dining, quarantine, isolation, patient care and other needs. If classes are suspended, Transportation and Mail Services will work with Student and Academic Services to assist students in leaving Ithaca.

Cornell's plan emphasizes colleges and units, each of which has an important role to play in preparing for a possible pandemic. All colleges and units must prepare detailed contingency plans for their specific operations in every administrative, academic and research area as part of their overall emergency planning. Individual faculty members and units will be responsible for maintaining or temporarily suspending key operations and research if university operations are restricted or suspended.

"The success of any plan depends on the preparedness and commitment of the community," McDaniel said. "Many people have already contributed much to the development of this plan, and are working every day to ensure health and safety on campus. We know that Cornellians will meet any crisis with determination and a commitment to caring for one another."