Let me be blunt.
If you think pandemic planning is all about how to keep from getting sick, you're missing the point. Well, you're getting part of it; but you're missing two of the three possible dimensions of a pandemic's impact.
We don't want to make the mistake of just seeing the direct effects of a pandemic - those which are more readily visible. Rather, we also need to look downstream at the relatively hidden effects - the ripples, the domino effects. Or, if you will, the "complications."
So let's "Think It Through," shall we?
Sickness-related issues - like avoiding sickness, treating the sick, and coping with an overloaded health care system - deal with the direct consequences of the pandemic. These are very central concerns and might be dramatically huge in scope, depending upon the exact virulence of the virus.
However, especially for a severe pandemic, the indirect consequences might be just as great in their own right (possibly greater). There are two aspects to the indirect consequences - immediate and long-term.
The immediate indirect consequences involve the countless societal complications resulting from a very large number of people being sick, caring for the sick, or otherwise being diverted from normal society-supporting activities. In particular, high employee absenteeism could cause a reduction of normal activities in wholesale and retail commerce, public services, businesses, health care, social activities, and other areas.
Some of these activities are more critical than others. For example, some of these businesses produce food and medicine. Some of them pick up trash. Some of them sell gasoline. Any curtailments of these, in addition to "social distancing" to avoid sickness, could have serious impacts on daily living.
The long-term indirect consequences might reflect what happens when a society experiences (1) the loss of a large number of young adults, (2) major disruptions to normal economic activities, and/or (3) altered relationships between groups. (Again, these effects would be an issue within a severe pandemic, especially.) Examples:
- What happens to a company which lost access to critical operations or supplies for an extended period? In the meantime, what if it falls behind in a competitive market?
- What might happen to public health systems?
- What changes might appear in different segments of the insurance industry (life, health, business insurance)? (Post-Hurricane Katrina, look at what's happened to property insurers ... and how they're reacting.)
- What changes might appear in different segments of your industry?
- What would be the financial impact of a lot of people losing some or all of their household income for a few weeks?
- What would happen if a significant percentage of income-earners were no longer paying income taxes or contributing to a federally-operated pension plan (e.g., U.S. Social Security system)? (Remember, the 1918 pandemic was most lethal among people in their prime, not among young children or the elderly. In the same way, a future pandemic might disproportionately strike people in their income-generating years.) What if those "government revenue shortfalls" struck suddenly - within a year or two? How would your government respond, fiscally?
- What happens to birth rates? And, in turn, what happens to all of those who provide products and services for children?
- How might a shift in the demographic mix affect consumer needs and patterns?
- Step out on a limb: What happens if a government or a political or ethnic group, either through desperation or opportunism during a pandemic, assails another nation or group - either to get critical resources or just as a "power grab?"
Admittedly, there's a ton of speculation in the above comments. But these are not wild imaginings on my part. Similar thoughts have been expressed by professional analysts.
The combined direct and indirect impacts are why we must Think It Through. The consequences of a pandemic could be very broad, very deep, and/or very long-lasting. We must plan for this.
Unfortunately, I suspect that as we proceed down that chain of possible impacts - from direct effects to immediate indirect effects to long-term indirect effects - fewer people are giving it thought. Which means fewer people are planning for the indirect effects.
In any case, pandemic planning is NOT just a matter of not getting sick. You could avoid contracting the new flu, yet die from lack of medicines you take for an existing condition ... or from starvation or dehydration ... or by freezing ... or from some other secondary factor. Or you could suffer financially if you lost your income for a while ... or your retirement fund declined sharply because it holds stock in companies who didn't prepare for a pandemic.