Insights Edelman GTF Swine Flu

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Managing Public Health Emergency Communications: …

Managing Public Health Emergency Communications:
Insights from the inaugural Edelman Global Task Force on Swine Influenza conference call

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  • 1. Managing Public Health Emergency Communications: Insights from the inaugural Edelman Global Task Force on Swine Influenza conference call Edelman convened a conference call with our clients, public health experts, and stakeholder engagement specialists on April 28 to share insights about the swine flu situation. Here is an overview of the information participants’ shared about disease prevention and the essential ingredients for a solid public health emergency communications plan. Update From Mexico Zerene Kahan, Regional Director of Edelman’s Latin American Health Practice, reports from Mexico.  News of swine flu began on Friday, April 24 in Mexico.  As of April 28, there had been 2,000 swine flu cases and 150 flu-related deaths in Mexico.  There is disagreement among local and federal officials about how to “message” what’s going on.  All Mexican schools and restaurants are closed until May 6.  Supermarkets are open, and people are buying supplies “like it’s a war.”  There’s panic among the general population. What’s Really Going On? A Public Health Perspective Dr. Julie Gerberding, former Director of the CDC, now of counsel to Edelman, puts the situation in context.  It’s important to understand what we know and what we don’t know at this point. We don’t have enough information to be able to predict how this will spread.  We know this is a new virus that can affect pigs and humans. It’s contagious among people.  Here’s what we DON’T KNOW:
  • 2. 1. Overall population level of susceptibility. Some people may be partially protected because of recent flu shots, but there’s no reason to believe there’s is total immunity. 2. Seriousness of the disease. There have been documented deaths from swine flu. We are seeing everything from mild symptoms to severe flu symptoms, such as upper respiratory problems. 3. How far it’s spreading. We’ve seen some clusters in the U.S. and Mexico caused by close personal contact. There’s no way of knowing how fast it will spread through the general population. Seasonal weather may impact the spread, slowing it down in warm weather, only to see it reappear in the fall. It’s an unfolding situation. Organizations and people must concentrate on: 1. Protecting the lives and health of people we’re responsible for. Follow CDC or State Department travel guidelines. Provide warnings of what symptoms to look for and when to take action. Don’t recommend that people immediately go to a doctor or hospital – it clogs the system and takes away from people with serious illness. Advise employees to call their doctors first to describe their symptoms, and heed their doctors’ advice. Containing a new flu virus is difficult for governments. We should not be overly concerned about what may appear to be lax policies about people returning to the U.S. from Mexico in particular. It’s possible to be a flu virus carrier and be asymptomatic, so it’s nearly impossible to catch every case. Don’t assume that there are “safe places” to travel, such as Cancun and other areas where there is high tourist traffic. People should be alert at all times. 2. Keeping society and business functional. Essential business functions must stay up and running to prevent wide-spread panic. Keep the continuity in society (banks open, drugs available, etc.) It’s very important not to “stigmatize” Mexican people or businesses, such as Mexican restaurants. We’re all in this together.
  • 3. If you have employees who, by necessity, travel in and out of Mexico, ask them to take precautions, be considerate of colleagues, and follow CDC guidelines. Reliable communications is critical:  People need to know you’re protecting them. Let employees know you’re following the situation and what you are doing about it. Consider those who may need to work from home, perhaps to care for a parent or sick child.  Communications must be accessible. Never underestimate the importance of regular communications with employees. People need to connect with one another. If employees work from home, understand the isolation this creates and encourage dialogue through social networks. What Organizations Can Do To Communicate Effectively in Uncertain Times Mike Seymour from Edelman’s Global Crisis Practice in the U.K. offers insight to help companies cut through confusion. Three things to consider now: 1. The uncertainty of the situation can easily and quickly cause panic. 2. Communications with your people is essential. 3. Now is the time to consider key policy decisions (and communicate them). 1. Uncertain environment  It’s easy for concern to turn to fear, which turns to panic. Help avoid this through frequent, concise, compelling communications.  Our job as managers is to control potential risk – think forward about the possible escalation of the situation.  Communicate how the situation changes business (or doesn’t).  Make sure you have the ability, such as IT capacity, to handle letting people work at home, should you need to let them do that.  Be sensitive to people who request to work at home. Don’t minimize their concerns. 2. Managing Information
  • 4.  Strike a balance between providing more information and actually running the risk of creating fear  Explain in simple terms what the symptoms are and how to watch for them.  Let people know about hygiene practices that will help minimize the problem.  Create a dialogue. Use social networks, develop key messages and express what your expected behaviors are.  Solicit feedback. Know what communications tactics are working and what’s not.  Stay on top of the media. People’s opinions are being shaped by the media. Be sure you stay on top of the media and share what you learn in a concise and clear way.  Have credible sources ready to point people to for accurate information (e.g. WHO, CDC, Red Cross, etc.)  Communicate daily status. Be clear and concise. Let people know what you know. Consider a daily bulletin at a specific time so you become a resource for your people. If there’s nothing new to add, say that. 3. Policy decisions  Consider how your customer relationships may change: o Will you continue to hold meetings in person? o Do you expect people to travel as they normally do? o What constraints are you putting on travel and how are you communicating that? o Are you providing alternative ways to travel?  Have work-at-home policies in place. Clearly define expectations and measurements.  You’ll find that as concern grows, so does absenteeism, usually in cycles. Prepare for this.  What’s your family policy? If schools close, can your employees work from home?  What advice will you offer people about what to do if they feel symptomatic? What’s Next: How We’re Monitoring the Situation Steve Behm – Global Task Force Contact – Atlanta 80% of those on the call indicated they have a “very significant concern” or “significant concern” about the swine flu outbreak and its impact on their business. To help manage these concerns:
  • 5.  Edelman will provide real-time information on our Health Engagement Blog at http://engageinhealth.com/  Will monitor news media around the world and provide a real-time snapshot of coverage through Twitter at http://twitter.com/healthcrisis  Set up e-mail addresses to handle regional or crisis issues promptly: healthcounselors.swineflu@edelman.com and healthconsultants.swineflu@edelman.com.