Browsed by
Tag: Pandemic

Pandemic Anytown

Pandemic Anytown

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Remember that song you learnt at school… “the knee bone’s connected to the leg bone“? Well, that song tells us to think of the body as a system of interconnected and interdependent components which work together to form a whole. Make a change somewhere and the repercussions of that will be felt elsewhere.

Other metaphors are available: The butterfly effect. The domino effect.

For a whole host of reasons though, we often focus more on components over systems; and it’s important we do that.

It’s important that when we plug something into an electrical socket or turn on a tap that what we are expecting comes out.

But we should ask ourselves why that is important. It’s important because, owing to our highly connected modern society, when a component fails the cascading impacts of that can be felt far and wide. It’s not just inconvenient, it can sometimes have direct safety implications.

When an earthquake struck northern Italy in 2013, the NHS in the UK had a supply issue with dialysis tubing.

We’re seeing similar right now with the COVID pandemic. It’s not just the impact of people who contract the disease, but the far-ranging impacts and knock-on effects of social distancing and isolation, reduced international travel and changing perceptions of risk.

I started the ANYTOWN project in 2013 as an attempt to better understand and describe how a partial or total failure of a network can impact on other connected networks. In some circumstances, this can lead to a much larger range of impacts than just the initiating incident.

Previous blog posts about ANYTOWN cover a bit more of the background of the project. But I’ve been attempting to apply the same model to describe what we are seeing (and may see in the coming months) with COVID.

There is very little ‘real science’ to this. Previous Anytown work was informed by extensive focus group research. However, as this is a highly dynamic situation this is primarily my musings. I shared it on LinkedIn over the last week and I’m indebted to those who have made suggestions and offered feedback.

This is is a work in progress. It is biased towards my own experiences as a middle-class white man in his thirties in London. I appreciate that other people’s experience of COVID will be different. I want to reflect that in future versions, but at the moment it is a limitation that I have noted.

Here’s version 1.2 for you to explore…

Starting in the centre is the initiating incident, in this case, the pandemic virus. Although there may be some specifics to COVID I suspect many of the cascading consequences would be relatively similar across different global pandemic threats.

The next ring out from the centre describes the ‘first-order’ impacts that are/have been observed across a range of different sectors. So some of the first impacts that would be anticipated (and have played out with COVID) are the introduction of social distancing measures, reduced public transport use and increased handwashing.

Second and third-order impacts for each sector are then captured as you move further from the centre. The diagram deliberately doesn’t indicate timescales; I intended this to help understand sequence, not timing.

This is a bit of a thought experiment to see if the model would work having previously been geared towards ‘hard infrastructure’ systems failure. I think it does, but it needs some development. I’m incredibly grateful to those who have made suggestions (I haven’t checked that it’s ok to specifically credit them so acknowledgements to feature in a future version!) or have commented that they have found it useful.

It’s not the answer to the problem. Not by any means.

But hopefully, it’s a useful tool to help us all to think about how our increasing interconnectedness. Normally this is super helpful, but it can sometimes work against us. At a time when there’s lots of uncertainty about lots of things, perhaps this offers a bit of a glimpse into the future to help us be prepared.

COVID-19: an experiment in peer support

COVID-19: an experiment in peer support

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Just what the world needs, another blog about COVID-19, except it’s not!


PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT 


There are, by my very rough calculations, something like 7000 Emergency Managers in the UK. Or at least, there were until earlier this week.

Now I think it’s probably something like 40 million!

Supermarket shelves might be empty, but communities are overflowing with people who want to look out for each other. It’s really quite wonderful to see.

But those 7000 people are still there.

They’re working long days (and nights).

They’re supporting people who routinely respond to challenging situations (and people who have never done this before).

They’re being asked for lots of information and answers (and they are not being told lots of information or having their questions answered).

In addition to that, they are people. If we openly admit it or not, these are worrying times. We’ve got families and homes and lives; thinking about the potential impacts of COVID-19 now, and in the future, makes us anxious too.

All of our employing organisations offer support. Support is available through friends and family. Support is available through professional societies. But I get the sense that something else is required.

This week a community of Emergency Managers on Twitter™ have been sharing of official messages, but we’ve also been reacting on a personal basis too. I’ve seen lots of good humour, and mutual support. I’ve seen (and issued my own) cries for help. That culminated yesterday in a discussion about finding a way to ‘get together’ and chat.

So, as an experiment, a few of us have grasped the last roll of toilet paper by the horns (look, it’s a crisis, leave my mixed metaphors alone) and decided to experiment with having virtual work drinks. Like everyone else, we’re going to use Zoom, as it’s free and seems user friendly. Many of us haven’t used it before so I’m fully expecting a bit of a bumpy ride.

My suggested a format is ‘the best thing that has happened this week and the thing you’re most concerned about’. It’s not about sharing best practise (though that is important), it’s not about bitching (that is important too). It’s about talking through a highly unusual situation with like-minded colleagues, and an ability to decompress after what has been a very long week.

Will it work? That depends on how you measure success. My prediction is that we’ll realise it’s a great idea but needs some work! I’ll report back!

Times like these can be hard. Talk to someone and wash your hands.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Coronavirus Freestyle 🦠🙅🏾‍♀️🦠 #QuarantineSpeech #WashYourHands 😂

A post shared by Lady Leshurr (@imladyleshurr) on

 

Should you worry about #SquirrelPlague?

Should you worry about #SquirrelPlague?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the news yet of the squirrel found in a Los Angeles park which tested positive for bubonic plague?

Squirrel

Avid readers may have been my recent Black Death post, but there’s nothing like a topical blog post, so I thought I’d come back to it in light of today’s news.

In schools across the (Eng)land, children are taught that between 1665 and 1666 anywhere between 15-50% of the UK population was wiped out by bubonic plague. However, this was just part of an extended period of intermittent plague epidemics which began in 1347, killing between 75-200 million people. Pretty significant!

So given the identification of Yersinia pestis in LA, should we be worried?

The simple answer is no (not least because in its Bubonic phase it is not highly contagious) . Sporadic cases of plague occur from time to time in both wild and domesticated animals. On occasion it is also found in humans, with 999 probable or confirmed cases between 1990 and 2010. The fact that Plague has been identified isn’t, in itself, a cause for concern. Early treatment with antibiotics, which weren’t available in the 1600’s, is very effective.

For outbreaks of novel disease, public health agencies take a number of proactive measures, such as the closure of the park and contact tracing of people potentially exposed, to try and reduce the spread of disease. From media reports, it looks as though all the measures that I would expect to be implemented at this early stage have been.

Plague is often high on the list of organisms that could be used by terrorists. This is nothing new, in fact, there is evidence that early Mongol armies casually tossed plague infected corpses over fortress walls in an effort to defeat their enemies in the 1346 Siege of Caffa. And there is certainly a general level of anxiety around the term, having even been incorporated into daily language “to avoid something like the plague” (although this probably owes to earlier use of the term plague in the medical profession in a more generic sense).

Plague has a complex biology; requiring the involvement of fleas and rodents and consequently on climatic conditions, as well as a relationship with social factors such as sanitation, healthcare and environment. Theoretically, the pneumonic plague form of infection has a potential for person-to-person transmission, however a relatively short infective period and poor adaptation to transmission by respiratory routes mean that it is still not highly communicable.

In 1994 in Surat in India, 52 people died from pneumonic plague. However, things quickly got out of hand, partly as a result of misinformation in the media. Therefore, whilst its right that health authorities in the states are talking this outbreak seriously, and it will be interesting to see how the media handle the story when eastern news agencies wake up. But, there really is little cause for alarm.

As my colleague John Twigg at UCL states, the most dangerous aspect today, would be unrestrained use of the word plague.

 

Image source: foxnews.com (I don’t think this is the squirrel in question!)