Scenario planning is the tool of choice in dealing with uncertainty. This week we'll focus on key Events, Endstates, and news relating to the possibility of a new Influenza Pandemic. According to the CDC, there have been 3 pandemics in recent modern times:
During the 20th century, the emergence of new influenza A virus subtypes caused three pandemics, all of which spread around the world within 1 year of being detected.
- 1918-19, "Spanish flu," [A (H1N1)], caused the highest number of known influenza deaths: more than 500,000 people died in the United States, and up to 50 million people may have died worldwide. Many people died within the first few days after infection, and others died of complications later. Nearly half of those who died were young, healthy adults. Influenza A (H1N1) viruses still circulate today after being introduced again into the human population in the 1970s.
- 1957-58, "Asian flu," [A (H2N2)], caused about 70,000 deaths in the United States. First identified in China in late February 1957, the Asian flu spread to the United States by June 1957.
- 1968-69, " Hong Kong flu," [A (H3N2)], caused about 34,000 deaths in the United States. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year. Influenza A (H3N2) viruses still circulate today.
Both the 1957-58 and 1968-69 pandemics were caused by viruses containing a combination of genes from a human influenza virus and an avian influenza virus. The origin of the 1918-19 pandemic virus is not clear.
Scenario planning can help because it provides a structured framework for organizing information and contingent events into alternative outcomes or Endstates. The Endstates may cover the full range including no bird flu pandemic; a moderately challenging public health event with 10 million dead world wide, to a major disaster with 50-100 million dead and untoward consequences for the global economy.
The goal in Endstate creation is not simply to count the dead. Rather, the interesting questions entail those events that contributed to the outcome. Perhaps vaccines are not as widely available as had been planned, for example. Perhaps the pharmaceuticals used to mitigate the impact of the influenza virus are less effective against the Bird Flu strain. Perhaps limitations on travel and quarantine are ineffective. Perhaps as in the Spanish Flu pandemic, young people in close quarters are the key "targets," thus decimating military groups and school and collage populations.
Scenario planning can thus be useful in anticipating these and numerous other events and outcomes and devising strategies and tactics that may mitigate the impact of bird flu on public health, national economies, world trade, and global travel, to mention just a few relevant domains.