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Published: May 30, 2006

 
 

Avian Flu: A Test of Collective Integrity

• Individuals and Localities. Neither governments nor corporations will be able to distribute food on a large scale in a pandemic crisis. The government will likely direct the general population to stay in their homes to minimize contagion. However, people will inevitably disobey such orders when there are widespread shortages of food, water, and other essentials. Therefore, both local police forces and individuals should be prepared, thinking ahead about the ways in which neighborhoods could safeguard themselves and survive the most difficult weeks. Governments can prepare plans now for neighborhoods, and begin by rehearsing the most difficult scenarios at a variety of levels, starting with local police and ambulance services.

Toward Collective Leadership
Once a pandemic strikes, it gets harder to manage processes because there are so many emergencies to handle. No one can anticipate the multiplier effects of such a combustible situation. Every crisis is different. From recent and harsh experience, we know that it will take more than planning for institutions responsible for the products and processes we take for granted to provide the quality of leadership and support that societies need when a pandemic strikes.

Leadership also takes skillful collective action. In a pandemic, the sociomedical nature of the threat means that collaboration is not just a gesture of good faith between the public and private sectors or among multiple institutions; it’s an operational necessity for delivering essential goods and services to prevent economies, communities, and countries from collapsing.

The challenges of coordinating communications, situational assessments, and the allocation of resources test not only the resilience of specific entities, but also the interdependent system we rely on to make the world go around. As Dr. Pierre Formenty, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at the World Health Organization in Geneva, said in the New York Times, “No single institution has the capacity to do [everything needed].” All industries need to think of themselves as part of a larger system; each organization must play its role while supporting the others as well. (See “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” by Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, s+b, Summer 2006.)

That lesson has already been brought home in the aftermath of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in December 2004. In their response to this enormous disaster, the Royal Thai government, the Thai private sector, and local and international NGOs have modeled new types of cooperative organizational behavior. They’re working not just to rebuild the roads, buildings, and utilities in affected areas, but also to rebuild the communities themselves. Ultimately, even the worst pandemic will end, and then it is time to regenerate the physical infrastructure and the social fabric — the webs of community, economic, and organizational relationships that provide the trust and resilience necessary to allow society to recover.

Reprint No. 06201

Author Profiles:


Susan Penfield (penfield_susan@bah.com) is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in Rockville, Md. She focuses on strategy and technology solutions for public- and private-sector clients in global health care.

John Larkin (larkin_john@bah.com) is a senior associate with Booz Allen Hamilton in Rockville, Md. He focuses on strategy-based development of global health initiatives within the public and private sectors.

Also contributing to this article were Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President Chris Kelly and Principals Jim Newfrock, Cindy Vanderlinde-Kopper, Michael Delurey, and Kevin Vigilante; and s+b Contributing Editor Ann Graham. 
 
 
 
 
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