H1N1 Expectation Management

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the H1N1 conspiracy theorists aren’t getting any more publicity and attention than they are, but in a way I wish people in the “mainstream” media, and in certain government positions – medical and health professionals, public safety leaders, and so on – were a little more aware of the fringe crazies and their black-helicopter fantasies about the whole H1N1 thing. Why?

So they wouldn’t make well-meaning but badly-phrases statements in or to the press, that’s why.

This story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune is a pretty ordinary article about how local city governments are making contingency plans to deal with the effects of H1N1 – like what to do when half the city workforce comes down with swine flu. Overall, there’s nothing to get too excited about, and it by and large leaves you with the impression that you shouldn’t panic, because your local government has everything under control.

But there’s one little bit that caught my attention:

“Roseville has tweaked its procedures to add 72-hour emergency powers for the city manager and emergency management leaders to allow them to make emergency purchases or shut down large meeting sites in cooperation with the state without having to seek City Council approval.”

Hang on, what? “…shut down large meeting sites in cooperation with the state”?

What I strongly suspect they mean is that, come full-blown H1N1 pandemic, sporting events, movie theaters, and other (sites of) large public gatherings will be closed as a preventative measure. If you’re convinced that H1N1 is a military-industrial complex biowarfare plot to sterilize and/or euthanize millions of middle-class Americans, however, it’s not hard to see how that kind of off-hand statement could, you know, be misinterpreted.

I mean, come a full-blown pandemic, large public gatherings probably should be forbidden, as a means of limiting the spread of the flu, don’t get me wrong. It’s easy to say “okay, we shouldn’t go to movie theaters for a couple weeks” – well, unless you own a movie theater, anyway. And I think we all understand that schools would probably close, too, for fairly obvious reasons, and ones that aren’t going to draw too many complaints.

It’s hard to escape admitting, however, that if you’re limiting public gatherings in the interests of public safety – and how’s that for a chillingly quasi-draconian sort of sentence? – churches, mosques, and synagogues are probably going to be among the first things to be closed. And, let’s be honest, that’s not going to go over well at all with a certain segment of the population.

After the 2008 RNC, a quasi-independent review of law enforcement planning surrounding that event highlighted a couple of arguable deficiencies – one of the less arguable being poor (basically nonexistent) “expectation management”, for lack of a better term. In other words, the authorities failed to adequately inform the local population of what to expect that week.

I know that a devastating, widespread H1N1 pandemic is far from a certainty. It’s clear that governments big and small are planning for a sort of worst-case scenario, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re doing so competently. What I really kind of wonder, though, is whether the public, by and large, should be better-educated about what a real full-blown pandemic would entail. I get that there’s probably a certain reluctance to cause widespread fear and panic – I like to think the government has learned a few lessons since the dirty-bomb fears of several years ago (remember the stockpiling of plastic sheets and duct tape?).

Would we be better off, though, if the government just came right out and said “this is what you could possibly expect to see happen”? I think so – it would better allow people to prepare, and give time for people to become more resigned to controversial and/or objectionable measures.

Am I way off base on this? Is “expectation management” overrated? Should the American people – hell, the world – be kept in the dark? Comments, et cetera, below…

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on November 2nd, 2009| Comments Off on H1N1 Expectation Management

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