Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco's got a go-to guy to help businesses prepare for a pandemic

DADE CITY — With the sour economy, David West thought he would have a hard time getting business executives interested in his new job: helping companies develop emergency plans in case of a pandemic.

Then swine flu hit the headlines. Now he expects his phone to start ringing and his calendar to fill up.

"When a pandemic hits, there's time to dust off a plan," the 51-year-old pastor and former Tampa Tribune community relations manager said Wednesday from his office at the Pasco County Health Department. "There isn't time to make a plan."

West's job, which began in January, is funded with part of a $189,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was awarded by the Florida Department of Health. Pasco is the only county in the state that sought the grant, which includes a coordinator for hospitals and government as well as clerical staff.

The county's work will be used as a template for other small counties, where small businesses tend to dominate. Officials also expect it to weave with state-mandated emergency management plans for conventional disasters such as hurricanes.

West's connections with business leaders through his previous jobs, plus his service as a Rotary Club district governor, prompted health department officials to give him the task of working with the private sector.

West has no medical background but has done extensive research about pandemics. He comes to chamber of commerce breakfasts with a PowerPoint presentation that mixes grim details of a worldwide flu outbreak with the comic relief of cartoons, including one of Sylvester the Cat being chased by a sneezing Tweety Bird.

"You don't want to scare people too much," he said. "You want to scare them just enough so they're motivated to prepare."

During an April 8 presentation at the Central Chamber of Commerce in Land O'Lakes, West made the buttoned-down crowd squirm a little in their seats.

"At that time, there was nothing; flu season was almost over," chamber director Kathy Dunkley said. "But now, lo and behold a few people have said to me, 'Wow, you just had that talk.'

He was very thorough and really did his homework."

West argues that such plans are an example of good corporate citizenship, while at the same time appealing to business sensibilities. It's good for the bottom line to be ready, he said, especially if a competitor isn't.

"I want to help them come out on the other side," he said.

West doesn't have pat answers, because each business is different. Some, such as drug stores and movie rental businesses, could be in high demand, while others, such as theaters and antique shops, could come to a standstill.

West does know that a pandemic is different from other disasters. Unlike hurricanes, which are visible, localized, relatively short-lived and bring people together, infectious disease outbreaks can't be seen, can have a global impact, might last months or even return and can isolate people.

"You can't depend on mutual aid. Another area might be having its own problems. After a hurricane, you tell everyone to come to the Wal-Mart parking lot to get supplies, but in a pandemic, there's social distancing."

What West does is help businesses ask the right questions. Who's in charge? Who's next in line if that person is sick? How would you stay open if a third of your staff is sick? Would you decide to offer paid leave to keep sick staffers from coming to work? Do you have enough supplies to operate? Do you have backup suppliers in case your vendors are sick?

How would you serve customers who fear infection? How would you pay staffers? What if the electricity goes out?

Many of these questions, which West is putting on a master checklist, would apply only in worst-case scenarios, which West quickly points out is not the case.

"We're not in a pandemic," he said.

But he stresses the need to be ready for one.

"These are things you don't think about ahead of time without stopping to think about them. We ought to prepare out of vigilance, not fear."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

FAST FACTS

Company preparedness

Ready for a pandemic? Some questions to help your company develop a plan.

• What are the essential parts of your business?

• Which staffers are critical to keep the essentials functioning?

• How many staffers can be absent before service is no longer possible? How long can that level of absenteeism last before the ability to operate is jeopardized? How do you deal with morale issues?

• What is needed to minimize risk to staff and customers?

• Could some work be done at home with little warning?

• Is it possible to drop less critical service areas to free up staff to "backfill" in key areas?

• Is there untapped capacity in the form of retirees, trainees or volunteers?

• Can staff be accommodated in the event transportation is not available?

• Are protective equipment and hygiene products available?

• Who is in charge? Is there a backup person?

• Is the decisionmaking process fully understood by key staff members?

• Do your suppliers have a disaster plan to deliver their product to you?

• Should you stockpile raw materials?

• What critical needs will emerge in your community and what can you realistically provide?

• What communication strategy will be most effective?

For information on developing a plan, contact David West, business community specialist, Pasco County Health Department, at David_West@doh.state.fl.us or call (352) 521-1450, ext. 345.

Pasco County Health Department

Pasco's got a go-to guy to help businesses prepare for a pandemic 04/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 8:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

    The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
  2. Diaz, Taddeo win easily in special Miami Senate primaries

    Blogs

    Two Miami state Senate candidates who raised and spent the most in their respective primaries — Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo — notched easy victories in a special election Tuesday night.

    Republican candidate Jose Felix Diaz is surrounded by supporters after he won the primary for Florida’s Senate District 40 race. Democrat Annette Taddeo, right, celebrates her victory with supporter Venus Lovely at BJ’s Restaurant in The Falls.
  3. In live debate, Kriseman and Baker ask St. Pete: Is the city better off?

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Mayoral candidates Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker made their best pitch to voters in front of a live television audience on Tuesday night. The candidates essentially asked this: Is the city better off now than it was four years ago?

    Incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker debate in front of a live television audience during the City of St. Petersburg Mayoral Debate at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg on Tuesday evening. The event was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  4. Romano: It all comes down to sewage in this mayoral race

    Local Government

    Well, poop.

    Nothing else really matters, does it?

    Schools, economic development, public safety? Pfft. The Rays stadium, affordable housing, the pier? Ack. When it comes to the St. Petersburg mayoral election, sewage is the yin, the yang and the yuck.

    At Tuesday’s debate, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman said responsibility lies on him regarding the sewage crisis.
  5. Shooting sends man to hospital in St. Pete

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Police were investigating a shooting that occurred around 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday and sent a man to the hospital.