• United States



by Senior Editor

Swine Flu: To Fear is to Fail

Apr 29, 20094 mins
Disaster RecoverySecurity

CSO Senior Editor Bill Brenner looks to history for examples of how fear only made matters worse, and how security pros can use reason to be of service in a swine flu pandemic.

Whenever a crisis unfolds — and we’ve seen many in recent years — the famous line FDR delivered in his 1933 inaugural address comes to mind: “The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself.”

He spoke of how fear deepened the nation’s paralysis during the Great Depression. But current events illustrate how true his words remain today.

When the economy faltered last year, fear took over and made the recession deeper than it might have otherwise become. Bankers panicked and credit froze, making it nearly impossible for people to buy things and for companies to meet payroll. Before the Great Depression, during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-19, fear caused the government to downplay what was happening. The result was more panic and more death because citizens lacked advice that could have been helpful.

Fast-forward to April 2009: Swine flu is spreading from Mexico to other parts of the globe and fear is again taking hold. Cable news anchors are practically yelling at us as they report the latest infections and deaths. People are walking around wearing masks and are afraid to go near pork.

The public should be concerned. The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic alert level from Phase 3 to 5, indicating that swine flu is spreading human-to-human. We’re not officially in a pandemic until WHO raises the alert level to Phase 6. [See: A Pandemic Preparedness Primer]

At least one death in the U.S. has been linked to swine flu, and more are sure to follow.

And while the current U.S. cases appear mild, with most victims making a full recovery, flu viruses are always mutating and there’s the chance of it evolving into a more lethal strain as we saw with Spanish flu and, more recently, bird flu (though the latter remains mostly a bird-to-human disease that has yet to attain the ingredients for a pandemic).

But concern and fear are not necessarily the same thing.

Concern should cause us to keep an eye on the latest news reports and start thinking about precautions, whether that involves closing schools or having employees work from home somewhere down the line.

Fear, on the other hand, causes society to shut down, much as the economic crisis led to the near shut-down of the financial sector. People start shunning each other without justification, and companies go into a scramble as essential workers refuse to come to the office for fear of infection.

Our advice is to be aware and prepare for measures that may or may not be necessary later on. There is no shortage of information on the Internet that’ll give companies and individuals all the knowledge needed to make it through this.

We’ve tried to do our part at CSOonline by releasing a primer of pandemic planning best practice articles and a podcast where a SANS Institute official describes how companies can stay afloat through a public health crisis.

Business continuity expert Kevin Nixon also pitched in with a guest article [see Swine Flu: How to Make Biz Continuity Plans]

Nixon pointed to a variety of resources for quick plan development:

Planning Guide for U.S. Businesses with Overseas Operations

Planning Guide for Businesses and other Employers

Planning Guide for Childcare Programs

Planning Guide for Elementary and Secondary Schools

Planning Guide for Colleges and Universities

Planning Guide for Faith-Based and Community Organizations

Planning Guide for Individuals and Families

There’s a cliché about “facts, not fear” being the key to crisis management and survival. I couldn’t agree more.

In the final analysis, it’s best to gather as much information as is available and, from there, carve out a contingency plan to ensure order and calm in the face of crisis.

If we do that, there will indeed be nothing to fear.

About FUD Watch: Senior Editor Bill Brenner scours the Internet in search of FUD – overhyped security threats that ultimately have little impact on a CSO’s daily routine. The goal: help security decision makers separate the hot air from genuine action items. To point us toward the industry’s most egregious FUD, send an e-mail to