Jackson County Leaders Prepare For Pandemic

Experts say it's a disaster that threatens to break down the very fabric of society.

"Are we going to be able to provide all of our services, emergency management training consultant Martin Padilla asks Jackson County's emergency response experts. "No," was the reply.

It's impact would be felt for years.

"How long is this going to last?" Padilla asked again. "24 months," is his reply.

And even Hurricane Katrina's destructive power, pales in comparison to the potential number of people killed or incapacitated in a nationwide pandemic.

"The planning number is about 30 percent of the population becoming sick," says Padilla.

If that happens, Jackson County's emergency response experts will man the front lines in a bird flu outbreak.

"We've got county road department people, city public works people, we've got industry people, health department people, administrators and governmental officials," says Butch Loper, Jackson County's Emergency Management Director. "It's just a good mix and match of actually what makes up your community."

All of those representatives were on hand to hear Martin Padilla, an emergency management training consultant with the O'Brien Group. He says like preparing for a hurricane, each community should be ready for bird flu.

"During the hurricane we had a tremendous amount of volunteer support from around the United States," says Padilla. "During a pandemic influenza we're on our own."

And Jackson County American Red Cross Executive Director Paige Roberts says if Katrina taught us anything, it's that preparing for the worst, is the best possible defense.

"The time to be trading business cards is not in the middle of a disaster and it certainly wouldn't be after H5N1 mutates and becomes human to human transmission," says Roberts. "The time is now."

In August, state and local emergency officials will hold a drill to test their response to a pandemic like the bird flu.