19 March 2020   Leave a comment

The have been many press reports about the state of preparedness in the US for the onset of a pandemic such as the country is experiencing currently. It is, to my mind, a curious question since there are many historical examples of plagues which completely transformed daily life in many societies. The real question is why, given the evidence, most societies were completely unprepared for such a devastating possibility. The question is even more perplexing because there is substantial information about systematic studies that were offered to governmental officials about what needed to be done to more effectively address the potential for a pandemic. Those studies, however, failed to elicit any response to this glaring threat to the security of citizens.

The New York Times published today a report about the information the Trump Administration had about the US government’s preparedness for a pandemic. The report was issued by the Health and Human Services agency on a simulation of a pandemic outbreak, entitled “Crimson Contagion” in October 2019. The simulation was run in January, April, and May of 2019. According to The New York Times:

“The draft report, marked ‘not to be disclosed,’ laid out in stark detail repeated cases of ‘confusion’ in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own ways on school closings.

“Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country. And it was hardly the first warning for the nation’s leaders. Three times over the past four years the U.S. government, across two administrations, had grappled in depth with what a pandemic would look like, identifying likely shortcomings and in some cases recommending specific action.

“In 2016, the Obama administration produced a comprehensive report on the lessons learned by the government from battling Ebola. In January 2017, outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.”

To its credit, the Obama Administration created a position on the National Security Council dedicated to coordinating federal resources to address the possibility of a devastating pandemic. That office briefed the incoming Trump Administration in January 2017. But that office was eliminated in January 2018.

It is clear that pandemics should be considered as national security threats as devastating as any threat posed by states or non-state actors. And we should fund defenses against pandemics (as well as climate change, by the way) to the same degree that we currently find defenses against more traditional acts of war. And we should assess the failure of anticipating such threats as egregious failures of the state.

Posted March 19, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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