Thursday, May 25, 2006

Red Cross SAS Function Critical in Public Health Disaster

Safety and security (SAS) is a new specialization within the Red Cross. I believe the primary responsibilities, at present, include facility security, dealing with unruly individuals (staff and/or public), and, in some instances, badging. It is primarily activated on larger operations. However, I think that it will become essential at all levels as we prepare for a public health disaster involving a transmisssible disease such as an avian flu pandemic.

Two activities will be critical during a public health disaster that would seem to fall under the purview of SAS: Managing and controlling movement of individuals, and managing individual and collective behaviors arising from fear.

Managing and controlling individual movement is necessary to enforce segregation of individuals with different levels of risk (e.g., keeping anyone who may have been exposed to the disease away from those who have not). This may entail formal and voluntary screening and is likely to require checkpoints and other means of traffic control. Similar traffic control measures will be necessary to minimize population density in all areas (simply reducing the number of people in a given space at any given time), including within the chapter house and other facilities operated by the Red Cross.

Managing fear-based behavior is part of the routine responsibilities of SAS. However, the need to minimize inter-personal contact while simultaneously providing groups and individuals with the assurances and comforting they need may well require behavior-management strategies and techniques that are new to the Red Cross. Additionally, if the Red Cross becomes involved in delivery of supplies that are perceived to be of high value (e.g., medical supplies that could be construed as including drugs used for recreational purposes, or ordinary goods of which there is a shortage), the Red Cross will have to develop new security provisions for mobile staff.

Planning for a public health disaster thus requires developing novel plans for space usage, traffic control, behavior management and safety measures. Preparedness will require training of staff in new techniques for enforcing safety measures and protecting the health and safety of SAS staff. This places SAS in a critical role during both preparedness and response.


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