Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Outbreak: The Reality Show

Bit of ominous news from CNN today about a military response plan to a major H1N1 outbreak in the United States.
The U.S. military wants to establish regional teams of military personnel to assist civilian authorities in the event of a significant outbreak of the H1N1 virus this fall, according to Defense Department officials.

The proposal is awaiting final approval from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The officials would not be identified because the proposal from U.S. Northern Command's Gen. Victor Renuart has not been approved by the secretary.

The plan calls for military task forces to work in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There is no final decision on how the military effort would be manned, but one source said it would likely include personnel from all branches of the military.

It has yet to be determined how many troops would be needed and whether they would come from the active duty or the National Guard and Reserve forces.

Civilian authorities would lead any relief efforts in the event of a major outbreak, the official said. The military, as they would for a natural disaster or other significant emergency situation, could provide support and fulfill any tasks that civilian authorities could not, such as air transport or testing of large numbers of viral samples from infected patients.

On one hand, I can see why this would be necessary. Having the military's command and control and logistics capability could really help in a major outbreak situation, instead of a weak Katrina-like response where overwhelmed local and state officials had no real plan and no way to execute them when things went to hell.

On the other hand, we're being told that regular flu is equally deadly and has so far never required military anything. After we've learned of Cheney's plans to violate the Posse Comitatus Act and put military troops on U.S. soil as far as enforcing the law, the request has to be taken with a healthy supertanker load of salt.

On the gripping hand (for you Niven/Pournelle fans out there) the question we should ask is "Why is the WHO so worried about H1N1 this fall/winter when regular flu happens yearly?" What are they not telling us about the disease? Why would an outbreak of the flu ever require a military response?

The answer is either "The need for a military response is overblown and unnecessary" which should really disturb the hell out of you, or "the need is absolutely justified because H1N1 is a lot worse than the government has let on" which should also disturb the hell out of you.

Cheery thought, isn't it?

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