For Immediate Release: Sept. 18, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
BURLINGTON – Al Turgeon spends time nearly every day thinking about the potential for pandemic influenza to spread rapidly across the campus of the University of Vermont.
“We can’t prevent a pandemic from happening,” said Turgeon, a former Army Lieutenant Colonel who chairs UVM’s Emergency Management Planning Working Group. “What we can do is plan, prepare, and educate, so that our community is informed and ready to respond when one occurs.”
Burlington is one of nine communities across the country participating as a "collaboratory" in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Pandemic Flu: Take the Lead campaign to encourage personal preparedness for an extreme health emergency. Before that designation, however, UVM was already taking a lead role among colleges in the state.
Two summers ago, UVM played a major role during a two-week exercise designed to test the state's collective response to pandemic influenza. And in November 2007, UVM hosted a symposium on pandemic flu planning for all of the state’s higher education institutions; of the 22 colleges and universities statewide invited to the symposium, 20 participated.
UVM’s Provost, John M. Hughes, hosted a meeting in April of chief academic officers at Vermont institutions of higher education to broaden leadership efforts and share ideas. UVM has also been working with the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission to provide pandemic planning information to neighboring communities.
UVM will have two primary concerns in the event of a pandemic, preserving the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, and maintaining the University’s core functions. Because the University’s central missions of academic instruction and research also provide critical sources of income, UVM’s pandemic planning effort must also address how to preserve the institution’s financial health and stability.
“The social distancing measures recommended in the event of a pandemic are completely contrary to the essence of a university,” says Turgeon. “We have to figure out how we can continue to teach, learn, conduct research, and collaborate and communicate as a community when people can’t physically be together.”
Turgeon’s area of expertise in the military was strategic and operational planning and emergency management, which has served him well as UVM’s Working Group seeks to plan for and coordinate the dozens of preparedness, response, and recovery activities that will need to take place in units across campus.
“We’re planning for what we think could be both the worst-case scenario and the most likely scenario,” said Turgeon. The Working Group is developing a pandemic response plan for the University that would be put into action by an emergency operations group.
“The history of flu pandemics over the last three centuries shows that a pandemic occurs on average every 24 years, and we are due,” Turgeon said. “As we talk with the University community and share what we’ve learned about how devastating an event like a pandemic could be, they start to understand the risk, and then they roll up their sleeves and realize that we all have to do some work to prepare. It’s the nature of this type of event that it takes time for some people to accept it, but the risk is there, and each and every one of us needs to do everything possible to prepare.”
September is National Preparedness Month, and state health officials are asking Vermonters in all walks of life to prepare for an extreme health emergency such as pandemic influenza by taking simple steps NOW to prepare: Practice good health manners. Be ready for an emergency. Know your community and workforce plans. For more information, resources and tools, visit the Health Department's website at healthvermont.gov, and select pandemic flu.