Business Week Online describes the onset of an avian-flu pandemic brought to the US by a businessman returning from Vietnam. A Hot Zone In The Heartland is pretty well researched, and if anything it understates the likely impact.
Right now, the U.S. has no national pandemic preparedness plan, either for treating large numbers of patients or for dealing with the resulting economic and social disruptions. "We can't handle a pandemic flu," asserts Dr. Redlener of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. "We don't have enough capacity in our health care system. We can't handle hundreds of people a day dying." His dire assessment is based on the fact that U.S. public health authorities have been woefully underfunded for decades.
Scary as such scenarios are, I find them encouraging—especially when they appear in the US business press. We can't expect much leadership from the political hacks who are nominally in charge of American disaster preparedness. But if US business can get over its sentimental attachment to George W. Bush, and can start thinking beyond the next quarter's profits, we might see some constructive action.
Wal-Mart was better prepared to respond to Katrina than FEMA, and the big-box companies, with their superb communications and transportation systems, might help get us through a pandemic. They just have to believe it's real, and a threat to their shareholders.