Swine Flu: 21 Things Law Enforcement Needs to Know
At the time of this writing, only the potential for a pandemic has been mentioned, and summer approaches; not your “usual” cold and flu season. One school of thought is that we might see a relatively minor wave of flu cases which will diminish toward the end of the summer. However, when fall starts and schools are back in session and traditional cold and flu season begins, it’s possible we’ll see a more massive wave of infection and reach true pandemic status.
This short article is not intended to be a medical or scientific discussion of the current strain of flu or its treatment. Instead, this piece is meant to inform law enforcement of some of the many unique threats and assets that could present themselves during a developing pandemic, along with some tips on what to do at present to mitigate future problems or obstacles.
The Hidden Threats
Aside from the obvious concerns related to staffing, service, and supply shortages that may affect police work in general, a pandemic scenario carries with it unique issues based not on the disease itself, but on both official and societal reactions to the emergency.
As a pandemic progresses in severity, the most probable reaction will be “mass social distancing” whether instituted or spontaneous. “Instituted” would insinuate that government entities have enacted measures leading to social distancing such as the closure of schools, public gatherings, non-essential business, and possibly setting curfews, leaving people with little to do but remain home. “Spontaneous” social distancing would occur when families take it upon themselves to stay out of public locations. We may see spontaneous school closures when parents keep their children home en masse, and parents remaining at home to care for their children will see some business curtailed as a result. Other threats will present themselves as well.
1. Robberies, particularly bank robberies, are likely to increase. As people begin wearing the N95 cloth masks in public, and one of the first groups of people to take advantage of this will be the criminal element who will realize they can easily walk around in public already wearing a mask. Given the current financial situation, the stress and civil unrest added by a developing pandemic and the resulting economic effect of a pandemic, it is probable that the numbers of potential robberies will increase substantially.
2. Domestic violence could increase dramatically since social distancing will alter the family dynamic. Families are accustomed to being apart for most of the day, and in this scenario, everyone will be home and “on top of each other” with the pandemic itself adding a level of stress. The potential for loss of income will also add considerable agitation to an already difficult situation and domestic violence will be a likely result.
3. Suicide and suicide attempts might increase for obvious reasons.
4. Though not directly police-related, there will also be an increased risk of fire. Cold and flu season is traditionally during the colder months and social distancing means that more people will be at home for longer periods of time and possibly using alternative heating devices (especially if there are issues with our critical infrastructure) for longer periods of time. Add to this the fact that more people will be cooking at home and we can readily see the risk for fire increases significantly.
5. The potential for terrorism increases. We know pretty much every metropolitan area of the country has terror cells, and we must assume that some have standing orders to make a bad situation worse. For example, if we see mass social distancing that appears to be stemming the progress of the pandemic, we may see an attack on critical infrastructure. Water tops the list because people would have to venture out of their houses into groups to collect water from delivery trucks. This close proximity between people would negate the benefits of social distancing. Too, the loss of water would cripple effective treatment at hospitals.
The Hidden Assets
Just as a pandemic carries with it certain threats and negative issues, it will also create certain assets and advantages that should be recognized now so they can be put to use when the time comes.
What to do Now
Though we may be at the beginning stages of a global pandemic, there is still time to set certain things in place to mitigate the negatives and strengthen reactive capabilities.
These are just a few of the hundreds of details law enforcement officers should know during a pandemic. We will try over the coming weeks to provide additional short articles to cover additional concepts.
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About the author: Paul Purcell is a security analyst and preparedness consultant with extensive experience in pandemic influenza readiness planning. More information and additional articles may be found at www.disasterprep101.com. © 2009 Paul Purcell
While you're here, you might want to see our article on general pandemic planning: P.A.N.D.E.M.I.C.
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