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Preparedness Versus Implementation of Pandemic Response

preparedness versus implementation

What’s the story about preparedness versus implementation? United States had miles of preparation and a great game plan. But the players on the field failed to perform.

Notwithstanding my hobby interests, I worked as a professional management consultant for thirty years. My specialization developed into managing complex change, often at state or system levels.

Over the years, I helped senior level clients develop, and often implement mission critical plans that made a difference. Along the way, I came to understand the dimensions of preparedness versus implementation. Simply put, getting results from planning and preparedness depends deeply on ability to implement. Our best plans mean little if we don’t implement well.

Much has been said and written about our societies and countries not being prepared to deal with COVID-19. But this is not true. Most advanced countries had longstanding plans and playbooks for dealing with pandemics of the Coronavirus variety.

Let’s take the United States for example. I spent some time  reading these plans and preparations. Over the past decade, the United States did consider pandemic preparedness versus implementation in much detail. You can read these for yourself, if you want. They include  Pandemic Plan Influenza Plan November 2005 (Health and Human Services); National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan May 2006 (Homeland Security Council); and Pandemic Influenza Plan 2017 Update (Health and Human Services.) You will find these and many others widely available, at least until someone makes them disappear.

These government documents contained tons of information about all the things US struggled with during COVID-19. No surprises. The only area where these plans were a bit light was on creation of testing for a “novel” virus. Everything else – testing bottlenecks, PPE shortages, hospital capacity and mitigation measures – were covered in depth.

Preparedness Versus Implementation – Cautions and Warnings

During the Presidential Transition, federal law (Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015) required the outgoing administration to go to great lengths briefing incoming Trump Transition Team about pandemic preparedness and other national security issues. For example, read the 2017 National Security Council Pandemic Playbook. You will find that this easy-to-read deck contains all the key questions, who should answer them and what decisions to make at each stage of risk during an outbreak. Read it, and you will realize that even you could have managed COVID-19 better.

Now, I want you to remember this date: January 13, 2017. Seven days before Trump took office, his transition team took part in a table top exercise called Facilitated Group Discussion – Pandemic Response. Why don’t you read the slides for this transition planning exercise between Obama and Trump officials. The gamed scenario was actually an Asian outbreak of a novel virus. The key questions and takeaways in the transition exercise actually covered all of the areas that have turned out to be problems. Sigh.

So, my friends, the difference between preparedness versus implementation is striking. According to the Playbook, when the WHO issues a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) the U.S. should declare a Public Health Emergency. WHO issued PHEIC on January 30 and US issued PHE on January 31. Pass. According to the Playbook, when the WHO declares a pandemic, US should consider a National Emergency. WHO declared a pandemic on March 11 and Trump declared a National Emergency on the same day. Pass.

Sadly, pretty much nothing else actually got implemented properly by the Executive Branch and its Agency appointees. Fail. So, the United States had detailed preparedness for COVID-19, a great game plan. But the players on the field failed to perform.

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