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Governors Address Pandemics and Continuity of Government

February 19, 2009 By

Governors can play a critical role developing policies that preserve day-to-day operation of critical state services and continuity of government during a pandemic outbreak, according to a new Issue Brief from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Sustaining the State Workforce: Strategies for Effective Pandemic Planning.

"State workforces are our first line of defense in the event of a pandemic outbreak," said John Thomasian, director of the NGA Center. "Having smart policies in place that ensure they can continue their operations as smoothly and efficiently as possible will ultimately help save lives and restore normalcy to communities affected by the outbreak."

In 2007 and early 2008, the NGA Center conducted a series of regional pandemic preparedness workshops involving 55 states and territories and the District of Columbia to examine the non-medical implications of a pandemic. The workshops explored continuity of government, the provision of essential government services, the maintenance of critical infrastructure and the effects of a pandemic on commerce and the economy.

Policies to effectively protect and manage state workers were consistently found to be among the leading concerns of workshop participants. Governors can play a critical role in providing the leadership required to develop effective workforce policies and should consider the following strategies when formulating these policies:

  • Create multiagency steering committees to identify services that must be maintained during a pandemic
  • Assess which personnel are essential, which personnel can be easily reassigned, and which departments, agencies or offices could close during a pandemic emergency
  • During a pandemic, address worker shortages in essential areas by reassigning healthy employees, drawing on alternative worker pools
  • Stop the spread of a pandemic in the workplace by providing adequate leave and incentives for ill employees to stay at home, promote social distancing measures and sanitary work environments, and allow for alternative work schedules-including telecommuting and flexible scheduling
  • Explore partnerships with labor unions and private sector partners to raise awareness of the threat and develop coordinated and consistent workforce strategies to avoid perceptions of unequal treatment.

To help states better prepare for a pandemic, the NGA Center has released two landmark reports on improving pandemic response. In 2008, the NGA Center released Pandemic Preparedness in the States: An Assessment of Progress and Opportunity, which presents an overall appraisal of the current level of pandemic preparedness in the states and offers recommendations for improvement in five areas: workforce policies; schools; situational awareness; public involvement; and public-private sector engagement.

In 2006, the NGA Center released Preparing for a Pandemic Influenza: A Primer for Governors and Senior State Officials. The report examines key issues governors and their top officials may face should a pandemic occur. Among its recommendations, the report encourages states to perform training exercises to assess current capabilities and explore effective operations for incident response. According to the report, "Initiating even the most basic exercises now will save lives during a future incident."

This Issue Brief was supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control.

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