Texas A&M Prepares for Pandemic Outbreak

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The bird flu hit Asia with a vengeance, and now Texas A&M wants to make sure it would be ready if a similar event happened here.

Practice makes perfect, that's the message Texas A&M officials are relaying to their departments about preparing for emergency situations such as a pandemic outbreak.

"It's crucial that we practice. Our response is only as good as our practice and planning are," Kay Carpender, Assistant Director, USA Center for Rural Public Health Preparedness, School of Rural Public Health said. "Developing a plan is a dynamic process and you work through the plan. You test the plan and it changes based on how you deal with that exercise."

Planning for such events began more than a year ago, and Tuesday those plans were put to the test.

Departments were given various scenarios such as transportation and fuel shortages, food supplies running low, and even losing the help of some of their own.

"We have some essential functions that continue, and we have to figure out how to do that. That's what planning is all about," Texas A&M Chief Human Resources Officer Jill Pollock said. "We've been developing ways of operating those essential functions when we have up to 40 percent absenteeism, for people who are quite ill."

Empty chairs and ribbons tied around wrists signified the loss of employees to the pandemic. The goal of the exercise: teach staff how to overcome the adverse situations.

"A couple of years ago we began to work with Texas A&M as they began to develop their pandemic plan for the university, we act as sort of a consultant for some of the tough decisions that have to be made," Carpender said.

Officials say some of those decisions could play a large role in the overall plan for the university.

"When we're all done we'll know which things worked well, which things just need polishing a bit, and where there are some serious gaps we need to fix," Pollock said.

Results from the drills are expected to be completed and edited by the end of October. After that, officials say the university's plan will be revised.