The Times asks whether corporations are ready for a pandemic. I’ve been asking myself the same question about schools, local government, telecommunications, technologists, local retail, and the rest of life.

The internet provides entirely new means of keeping life going even if we have to quarantine ourselves like Charlton Heston in Soylent Green. A few possibilities and questions:

* Schools should be ready to teach students remotely. I have no idea whether my district has a plan; I doubt it does. The last thing we want is children put at risk and putting communities at risk with their tendancy to spread germs. The next-to-last thing we want is for their education to stop. So they should be able to receive schooling thanks to technology. At best, this is via computers and the internet (insert “digital divide” PC screed here). At a minimum, this is via phones and conference calls.

* Cable companies, telephone companies, and power companies should make passing every home with bandwidth a priority, a matter of national security. They should be doing that for business anyway. If they don’t, then why not nationalize them before they implode on their own? And where do we stand with technology to enable large-scale wireless networks?

This, by the way, is FON’s opportunity to take off and do good. (And, no, I’m not on their advisory board.)

* These same telecommunications ventures need to provide easy and cheap or free means of running conference calls for schools and businesses.

This is Skype’s opportunity to rescue the economies of stricken regions. If I were Skype, I’d announce today that the company will provide free, large-scale conference calls for all schools.

* PBS, NPR, and commercial broadcasters should be prepared to air classroom instruction and educators should be prepared to give it.

* Every office needs a plan for running the business across distributed, distance networks. And if, God forbid, they have to do this, I’ll predict that this will become the new way to do business overnight. It will save rent.

* Every local retailer, especially supermarkets, should have plans for online and phone ordering and for delivery to homes, without face-to-face contact.

* Similarly, if I had a restaurant and a prayer of survival, I’d pull a deliver-and-run strategy out my hat.

* I’d sell Starbucks stock. Which makes me wonder whether some stock analysts have bird-flu pandemic strategies already mapped out. The sad thing is, they’re probably the best prepared.

What else should we be doing to use the internet to prepare for a pandemic (or another natural disaster or another terrorist attack)?

  • Mumblix Grumph

    I hate to bring “censorship” into the picture. But should there be some kind of “overseer” to prevent rumor-mongering and false panic over the internet?

    Orson Welles caused a panic with War Of The Worlds, imagine a panic that could be created with War Of The Birds.

    Would this lead to abuse by governments or suppression of legitimate news? Would this be the chance that old-media editors have been waiting for to shut down internet news?

  • qcontent

    The danger of FEAR, SUSPICION, and HATRED in our lives–

    Bush and those who control this cheerleading cowboy sock puppet of a president; know that FEAR, SUSPICION, and HATRED ARE THE SUREST AVENUES TO POLITICAL POWER.

    They know when the American people, in their blind, naive, stupid, or foolish trust, are directed to SUSPECT, then HATE someone or something; because they have become convinced they are THREATENED by that someone or something, and thus FEAR for their SECURITY from that someone or something…the power of the government becomes almost invincible.

    It was not an accident that the Republicans lost the election in 1992. They lost the White House because the Soviet Union was no longer a credible THREAT, and the GOP no longer had the ability to make us HATE and FEAR the Russians.

    New enemies needed to be found-Terrorists, Cultures, Races, And Religions Different Than Ours, Diseases, Those Who Do Not Share Our Beliefs, and Even Each Other. While the real THREAT TO FEAR is the same as it has always been, the global feudal elite– the few who have always commanded and controlled the many; for the sake of power and money to fuel their greed and conceit.

    Since 9.11.2001, they have been able to manipulate or invent many things to fill our FEAR void. We are once again AFRAID, and thus looking to these inept and lying politicians to become our SECURITY blanket, to protect us from these perceived evils they have projected into our minds.

    Beware. Have courage. Think for yourself. Don’t just look. See! Fear the G.O.P. and their religious power base, because of the fear they project into your life. Vote whenever you can against their techniques of fear. Make sure your vote is counted correctly.

  • Hey Jeff, these are great ideas.

  • I think the bird flu thing is way overblown. What’s the total cases to deaths ratio in the most highly affected countries? And what’s the ratio of cases to total population?

    If you really want to deal with bird flu, get everyone a good dose of Tamiflu, and have them put in the fridge, It lasts about five years. That’s much cheaper than reorganizing every social and civic system to be remote.

  • Gloria

    Jeff, the government warns that electricity and water may fail because quarantine will keep workers at home. Everything will stop. Same for IPs. No Net, no nothing. Restaurants won’t have food, never mind delivery. Stockpile tuna and powdered milk. Their scenario is primitive and quite scary.

  • For some months, I’ve been setting personal and business strategy in the event there is a pandemic.

    At a minimum, people need to think and consider “What if?” and do baseline preparations. Curiously, I did a post (Web 2.0, You and the Bird Flu) about this just the other day since I’ve been thinking about the fact that most people I know are giving zero thought to it. Also, morbid as it sounds the need — and the possible opportunity — that will be manifested in the internet and Web applications is real.

    Shorting Starbucks? Yep. How about restaurant chains? Airlines? There will be many affected businesses…hell, maybe all business since people will knee-jerk and just stay home (and home schooling will expand no doubt).

    After 9/11, a customer of the company I was at (Vignette) had a major airline customer that was HAMMERED by millions upon millions of page views in the 24 hours after. Other customers had the same issue. Imagine the flu hits and hundreds of thousands decide to collaborate using Writely or Foldera? Setup new blogs to communicate with family, friends, clients and those employees refusing to come to work?

    Will these companies (or yours, for that matter) scale to handle the demand?

  • Jack Curtis

    This whole “the economy will shut down” seems like a year 2000
    crisis all over again. One of the interesting things about the MSM presentation of avian flu is the concentration on spreading by wild
    birds along flyways. The concensus on the scientific blogosphere
    appears to be that concentrated industrial flocks, not natural flocks,
    are where the avian flu developed and from where it propogates.
    The focus on Asian backyard flocks is similarly misplaced. The
    zeitgeist appears to be: let’s be afraid of natural birds and unfamiliar
    Asian farming practices and ignore the pitfalls of industrial style food

    Is avian flu just a story-du-jour that has metastastized?

    It certainly looks that way from my seat.

  • Jeff,

    I’m reading John Barry’s “The Great Influenza” which is about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Certainly, our medical knowledge has increased and treatment has progressed to help treat the acute respiratory failure. But this would require an investment in many, many mechanical ventilators, and the skilled health care providers to manage these patient cases. The burden on the the health care system should be the biggest concern in case the present avian flu strain mutates into a human pathogen capable of producing a pandemic.

    There’s interesting research comparing the 1918 strain to the H5N1 virus that killed a Vietnamese boy during the current outbreak. They’re very similar.

  • The 1918 flu pandemic did not shut down the economy, and send the US into a primitive state. Why should we expect a future pandemic to it? The history of disease shows that this doesn’t happen. It’s Y2K panic all over again. People, relax.

    As the doctor above says, we have improved medical care greatly since 1918. But…people still die from disease. Telling everyone to stay home and learn and work and do everything remotely is not going to change that.

    I’m still thinking, big does of tamiflu for everyone, and then forget about it.

  • dennis

    Mumblix: If you read John Barry’s The Great Influenza, you’ll see that the censorship strategy was tried in 1918. Governments worked hard to downplay the threat and avoid panic. The result was that people went about their business spreading the virus, instead of staying home. A lot of deaths could have been avoided if information had spread more freely.

  • MrWolf

    Great idea for remote schooling but really I think it would only be good for one child households. I have for one have 3 kids in my house. How do you go about getting remote schooling for all 3? How would the broadcasting classes on PBS work when you have 13 different grade levels in schools? Same for conference calls. I only have one phone line in my house. That means one kid at a time getting all educated up. :) Sorry, Timmy, we just love your brother more than you so he gets to learn how to read.
    Anyways, I think I’d be more worried about keeping my family alive than them not having school for a few months or even a year.

  • Gloria

    Jack, nobody knows whether/how this will mutate. Could be harmless, could go berserk. We don’t have enough information yet for more than hunches.

  • Of course the flu itself has as is its nature evolved, and tamiflu is not directed toward this newest strain which is why another is being developed as rapidly as possible.

    It is normal in tornado alley where I live to have a few days’ stock on hand for living without power or water, something like the ‘couple extra cans of tuna’ recipe. If it were necessary or if it were recommended by our gov’t, I am sure most households could get by for a short time without mixing and mingling. However, if you recall, recently in asia, face masks became the fashion of the day [SARS, as I recall].

    A pandemic isn’t an unmanageable event, but using it as a threat is something to be feared – and the fortunes to be made by certain pharmaceutical firms seem to me to be more the object of spreading panic than any public interest.

  • We run an online news publication that covers the audio, web, and video conferencing industry, and think Jeff is right on with this post. An excerpt from a recent blog entry on below:

    “Has your organization instituted a plan for business continuity in the event of a major disaster, such as bird flu or a hurricane, during which key workers would be forced to remain at home or become unable to meet in one place?”

    We recently received an email with the polling question above from a Genesys Conferencing email marketing campaign about “Business continuity in the event of a major disaster.” We think it’s about high time conferencing and collaboration companies began doing their calamity marketing before a tragedy happens. Either bird flu, another hurricane, and yes, let’s say it – terrorist events with nuclear, biological, and chemical means – will sadly befall us at some point. And there will be a spate of conferencing companies in the aftermath of the calamity providing temporarily “free” service to people in the afflicted area, which everyone knows is a way to promote their product or service, nothwithstanding some good intentions behind the offer.

    We like this Genesys email campaign in terms of confronting the business realities of the precarious world in which we live. Some could suggest a tinge of fear mongering, but if you’re reading the newspaper everyday, you’ll agree it’s really not.

    Even Wall Street should view some conferencing companies – with good management teams and technologies – as good investments in times of potential calamities caused by sick birds and dirty bombs.

  • mkay

    Sorry, Timmy, we just love your brother more than you so he gets to learn how to read.

    how teaching your children how to read yourself? i know i know, impossible.