Columbia County has an emergency plan for nearly everything from natural disasters to man-made emergencies, including a biological terrorist attack or chemical spill.
Now, officials are preparing for one more area of concern: a potential flu pandemic.
A meeting on the topic to include business owners, first responders, emergency workers and government officials, both from the county and the cities of Grovetown and Harlem, will take place Wednesday.
The formation of county pandemic information planning committees is a statewide effort, said Gary Zgutowicz, an emergency preparedness coordinator for Georgia's East Central Health District.
"It is not to depress or scare people at all, but it is to look realistically out there and say, 'Look, these things are a potential to happen,'" said Pam Tucker, the county's emergency services director. "We want to have a plan and be able to implement it effectively if this should happen."
Tucker said the influenza pandemic of 1918 is believed to have started with an outbreak of the flu in Kansas. The infectious disease started in birds and was transmitted directly, or indirectly through pigs, to humans.
The 1918 flu pandemic killed between 20 and 40 million people, which is more than died in World War I, and is cited as the most devastating disaster in recorded world history, according to the Stanford University's human virology department. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four years of the Black Death or bubonic plague in the Middle Ages.
"These are things that occur naturally after so many years," Tucker said of the pandemic flu viruses that mutate and become deadly because there is no vaccine.
The committee will eventually have a plan to prepare for and handle potential flu outbreaks. The planning kit, provided by Zgutowicz, provides realistic expectations, precautionary measures and an outline for different county organizations including the local government, school system, businesses and those providing essential services such as water, food and medical supplies and care.
"If something like this happens, we don't have time to stop and think about, 'What are we going to do without 30 percent of our work force if they are out sick?' " Tucker said. "If we do get a pandemic flu, we would have a very short period of time. It would spread rapidly."
Zgutowicz said the possibility of a pandemic flu is real, but not a threat yet. Birds with the avian flu virus in Asia have infected humans, mainly in third world countries where poultry is a diet staple and humans often live in mud-floored huts with chickens in unsanitary conditions.
"The worry is going to start when we have our first case where it is human-to-human transfer, and that hasn't happened yet," Zgutowicz said.
Tucker said the planning meeting is part of a revamping of the county's Emergency Operations Procedures.
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