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SMC creates emergency plan

Jennifer Metz | Tuesday, April 3, 2007

To prepare for the possible outbreak of avian flu on campus, Saint Mary’s has released executive summaries of its Pandemic Flu Report describing the College’s readiness and emergency plan.

Two reports are posted on the school’s Web site, one for students and parents and another for faculty and staff. The College plans to create a more comprehensive report accounting for all possible emergencies.

“Avian flu was very much in the news, so we wanted to plan ahead,” said Executive Assistant to the President Susan Dampeer, who chaired the Pandemic Task Force that Saint Mary’s President Carol Ann Mooney created last summer.

In case of an outbreak, the task force said in its report, “It is better to be over-prepared, and ready for all contingencies, than to be taken by surprise.”

The report said that if avian flu becomes “easily transmitted” from human to human, it will be contagious like the seasonal flu.

If cases of avian flu arise at Saint Mary’s, quarantines are advised, and in the case of severe respiratory difficulties, sick people may need to be transferred to hospitals. Many of the College’s daily operations will continue, according to the report, but business will be conducted via the Internet as much as possible.

The report for faculty and staff said that “essential personnel” have been identified of their involvement in contributing to the “ongoing function of the College in a crisis situation.”

In a College Forum address last August, Mooney said Saint Mary’s had prepared for the “heightened concern about the possibility of an avian flu pandemic” through the creation of the Pandemic Task Force.

The American College Health Association set the guidelines for the task force, which worked for about a semester to put together its reports.

Other colleges have created similar plans, which Saint Mary’s used as models. Loyola University of Chicago’s plan was especially comprehensive, said Dampeer, who chaired the task force. Loyola’s Web site provides detailed information and instructions that relate to the possibility of an avian flu pandemic, as well as an emergency response plan. This plan pertains to natural disasters, bomb threats, civil disorders, hostage situations, utility failure and other hypothetical emergencies.

After seeing this plan, Dampeer said the College’s plan needed to be expanded, making the pandemic plan one part of an broader emergency plan.

“The [avian] flu is the starting point. We’re working on a more complete awareness plan for all kinds of emergencies, she said.

The next phase in the College’s preparedness is starting now, and the committee will work through the summer, planning to finish a final report by the end of next year.

“We hope that a parent can go on [the Web site] and be comforted that [the College] has planned for all possible emergencies. It’s reassuring to know that people are in charge,” Dampeer said.

In the course of planning, Dampeer found that even members of the committee were not aware of the emergency plan already established by the College.

“I hope people will read the manual and be aware of what we’ve done and are prepared,” she said. “Mostly, I hope that nothing ever happens.”

The College recommends referring to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Web site for more information pertaining to the spread of avian flu and the possibility of a pandemic as well as checking the Saint Mary’s Web sites for emergency updates.