Well, you gotta give Mike Brown credit for being consistent:
Here’s what I really think is going on. I think they want to raise this level because that gives them more attention, it gives them more, you know, more legitimacy, and allows them to get out there and say ‘oh look at us, we’re in control we’ve got this thing taken care of.’
Of course, in providing his “expert” analysis to FOX News, it’s no surprise that Brownie focuses on appearances rather than on the public health response or, you know, the flu virus itself, for if there’s anything he learned from his years at the helm of FEMA, it’s that the most important part of mounting an effective emergency management effort is presenting the appearance of mounting an effective emergency management effort. Or at least that’s the way he ran his agency, always assuring an ample supply of FEMA emblazoned tee-shirts and windbreakers at the scene of any major disaster, even if potable water and adequate shelter were lacking.
Indeed, even in his post-Katrina congressional testimony, Brownie made clear that the real disaster in New Orleans didn’t take place until after his press office was overwhelmed with inquiries about his thin resume:
While FEMA was trying to respond to probably the largest natural disaster in the history of this country, a catastrophic disaster that the president has described covering an area the size of Great Britain – I have heard 90,000 square miles – unless you have been there and seen it, you don’t realize exactly how bad and how big it was – but in the middle of trying to respond to that, FEMA’s press office became bombarded with requests to respond immediately to false statements about my resume and my background.
Ironically, it started with an organization called horsesass.org, that on some blog published a false, and, frankly, in my opinion, defamatory statement that the media just continued to repeat over and over. Next, one national magazine not only defamed me, but my alma mater, the Oklahoma City University School of Law, in one sentence alone leveling six false charges.
But I guess it’s the media’s job. But I don’t like it. I think it’s false. It came at the wrong time. And I think it led potentially to me being pulled out of Louisiana because it made me somewhat ineffective.
The unnecessary deaths and suffering in Katrina’s wake? My fault. Because my reporting ultimately made it impossible for Brownie’s press office to do its job.
Small wonder then that a man who views PR flacks as first responders would choose to criticize US and WHO health officials for their public posturing, while failing to engage in even a cursory discussion of the public health crisis itself. But by accusing officials of “crying the sky is falling,” FOX’s “expert” shows he has even less expertise about pandemic flu than he did about Atlantic hurricanes; indeed, contrary to Brown’s assertions, it’s not the fatality rate per se that has triggered heightened alert levels as much as it is the apparent contagiousness of this novel virus. For even if the severity of the symptoms prove no worse than those of the typical seasonal flu, a pandemic outbreak will kill many, many more people, if only through the sheer number of those afflicted:
Because there is no natural immunity to this virus, even though clinically it appears to be like garden variety flu to the individual, with respect to the population it has the potential to spread faster and many more people sick than seasonal flu. And remember, seasonal flu is not a walk in the park. It kills an estimated 30,000 people a year.
A bad flu season can fill hospital emergency rooms and in patient beds to the bursting point. We currently have fewer staffed hospital beds per capita than we did in the last pandemic, 1968 (the “Hong Kong flu”). There is no reserve capacity. We can’t just add physical beds. Beds don’t take care of patients. Nurses and doctors do.
Now take a bad flu season and double it. To each individual it’s the same disease but now everybody is getting it at once, in every community and all over the world. In terms of virulence, it’s a mild pandemic. It’s not a lethal virus like 1918. But in terms of social disruption it could be very bad. If twice as many people get sick, the number of deaths could be 80,000 in the US instead of 40,000.
And if three or four times as many people fall ill, well, do the math. The 1918 pandemic is estimated to have infected one third of the world population; even at a mortality rate of less than one tenth of one percent, a mild yet similarly widespread pandemic would kill over two million people worldwide.
So are public health officials playing the role of Chicken Little? Hardly. No, unlike FEMA during Brownie’s tenure, they’re focusing on adequately preparing for the worst, ahead of the crisis, rather than just spinning the response afterwards.