Anchorage Working on Pandemic Flu Response

National study says Alaska at high risk for economic damage.

by / March 26, 2007
Anchorage, Alaska, has been working for more than a year to ready the community in case of a global outbreak of pandemic influenza. That's the message from Mayor Mark Begich and city health and emergency services professionals in response to a national study which predicts that Alaska will be the third most economically vulnerable state in the nation during an outbreak of pandemic influenza.

"We understand the impacts of pandemic flu and that is why we have been focused and very aggressive about preparing local government agencies and the community as a whole for all the potential impacts," Begich said. "We will not jeopardize the safety of our citizens and the vitality of our economy by shutting down government or isolating the city. That is not an option."

The Trust for America's Health, the non-profit organization that conducted the study, determined there is a significant risk of nationwide economic recession in the aftermath of a pandemic and that all states will be impacted. It says Alaska ranks third in percentage losses among the 50 states.

That statistical ranking is largely because Alaska is responsible for a high percentage of two national industries -- mining and transportation. According to the study, Alaska accounts for more than 25 percent of the nation's mining gross domestic product and more than 7 percent of its transportation and warehousing industries.

"Because there was so much public fear about this issue last year, we felt it was important to address the issue from all angles," said Heather Handyside, director of emergency management. "We held seminars for first responders, small business owners, critical infrastructure managers, public affairs specialists, and municipal staff."

The Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) suggested strategies for mitigating the economic consequences of a pandemic influenza outbreak. Those include working with critical infrastructure partners to identify essential workers, identifying minimum staffing levels for key industries, suggesting telecommuting policies to local businesses and recognizing that businesses that deliver "non-essential" services are likely to suffer the greatest economic hardships.

As a direct result of recommendations from the Mayor's Policy Cabinet, the MOA initiated a "Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP)" process to determine how to deliver essential services during an outbreak and how to get back to business-as-usual after the pandemic is over.