Thursday, March 5, 2020

Pandemic plan

Graham Allison's wonderful book on the Cuban missile crisis teaches an important lesson: You cannot ask bureaucracies to think on the fly. They can execute plans, but don't ask them to innovate quickly. If, for example, it would be a good idea in a pandemic to allow people to withdraw from retirement accounts, or access sick leave even if they are not sick, don't expect this to happen overnight. Don't even expect customs to figure out that we shouldn't all be touching the same screen when we get off a plane.

That's why we have plans for floods, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, hurricanes and more. And agencies regularly practice these.

I opined in my last blog post a bit of horror that we seem to have no national pandemic plan, and our poor public officials are making it up as they go along. This turns out to be wrong.

It turns out there is a national pandemic plan.

I haven't read it all, but it does not seem to have been widely implmented or practiced, and it's interesting that I am not hearing any of our public officials reference it. It has a lot of recommendations for the private sector that I know my employer never heard of. It also seems silent on economic and financial questions -- how do companies with no sales keep from running out of money.

I welcome comments from people who know this document. Is it, like the executive summary, just an airy wish list that got written and forgotten? Or is this an effective plan widely known in the Federal Bureaucracy.

(Thanks to a correspondent for the link)


  1. There seem to be a number of explicit references in the plan to novel influenza A. NCOVID-19 is a betacoronavirus. It can't be that the plan would not be brought into effect because it's the wrong kind of virus right? Right? ...Right?

  2. "It also seems silent on economic and financial questions -- how do companies with no sales keep from running out of money."

    While I understand the logic of your point - given your previous comments about the incentives that are created with government programs - can you imagine what would happen if the federal government DID address the problem of "companies with no sales from running out of money" during a pandemic? My bet is that we would have a much more common occurrence of declared pandemics.


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