Public health reports provide evidence of new strains of influenza virus involving cross species contamination. The latest being avian flu and swine flu. New strains of influenza viruses are emerging yearly. Vaccination and medication processes are often not enough to keep up with pandemic that are occurring. Currently there are about 4000 deaths in Canada annually from the influenza virus. If a pandemic were to occur in western Canada there would be a significant impact on Northern Lights College (NLC, the College) in both the economic and human sense. This plan will provide the direction and instructions for NLC preparedness and the College’s activities to mitigate the impact that may be experienced in the event of a pandemic outbreak in western Canada.
The Pandemic Threat
Pandemics occur when a novel virus emerges that infects and can be efficiently transmitted between humans. Animals are the most likely reservoir for these emerging viruses; avian viruses played a role in the last three influenza pandemics. The latest outbreak is a strain of the influenza virus that has jumped from pigs to humans and is now capable of being transmitted via human vector.
NLC’s plan addresses different outbreak scenarios which will include different levels of severity of the virus and rates of transmission. As of August 24th 2009 the provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall has suggested that it will likely not be necessary to close schools as a measure to prevent the spread of H1N1 also known as the Swine Flu.
"Closures early last spring were initiated out of an abundance of caution because we had very little information on the novel flu virus at that time. It has since become apparent that the disease caused by this virus is generally mild and does not warrant such severe measures."
NLC will use measures within the NLC Exposure Control Plan in order to prevent the spread of infection. A campaign of awareness to aid in the prevention of infection will help alleviate the need to close campuses or reduce instructional levels or services.
In order to exercise due diligence it will be necessary to prepare for the most severe health scenario to affect the campus community. In the event of a highly infectious and fatal virus entering northern BC-the plan developed for NLC is based upon the assumption that the campus may need to suspend the academic and trades programs and possibly close NLC campuses for an indeterminate period until the rate of transmission of the virus begins to reasonably subside.
Given the ease in which seasonal viruses spread each year among the population, it is assumed that the academic environment of campus classrooms cannot be maintained in the face of this new global pandemic without putting students, staff and others at risk of infection and possibly worse. Health sources recommend taking steps toward social distancing, minimizing public assemblies, proper cough/sneeze etiquette, increased hand washing, and other actions, in order to slow, but never stop, the spread of the virus. Yet, it can be anticipated that at the height of a pandemic outbreak few students will feel comfortable sitting in classes without being fearful for their own health. In addition, NLC may be directed by provincial or federal authorities to close the campus regardless of the institution's interest in doing otherwise.
The NLC Pandemic Plan will consist of four stages, normal operation in the pandemic setting (the current phase at the time of writing this plan), pending closures or campus shutdowns, facility shutdown and recovery with normal operation.
Assumptions Underlying the Pandemic Plan of Action
- NLC's response to a pandemic will be managed by the Emergency Response Preparedness Committee (ERP). It will meet weekly, daily, or more than daily as issues unfold. A location will be determined and expanded opportunities for conference call meetings have been established when large group meetings are no longer advisable or possible.
- The current ERP consists of:
- The HSEA
- The Communications Manger
- Campus Administrator – Fort St. John Campus
- Facilities Coordinator Fort St. John Campus
- Residence Manager Fort St. John Campus
- Prior to the onset of the pandemic, officials will monitor the information available via the internet and other sources. Through all the stages of response, The Vice President Finance and Administration (VP Admin) will be the primary contact with the BC Ministry of Health, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and Northern Health Authority officials. The Health, Safety & Environment Advisor (HSEA) will maintain contact and co-ordinate with the RCMP and other emergency services.
- An outbreak could interrupt normal College functioning for a period of two to four weeks up to several months (although this is highly unlikely after the August 24th announcement by the provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall)
- NLC will implement social distancing measures and evacuate many of its students and employees, but it may need to maintain some systems to support continued administrative operations, minimal student housing, and selected facilities activities.
- NLC has existing communications resources that can be mobilized for quick response in the event of an emergency. Media relations and use of campus media equipment are additional assets to be used to support the communications plan. All media communications will be performed by the President and/or the Communications Manager.
- Essential employees may need to function from either remote or campus locations to maintain services. Options for limiting exposure of essential employees to the virus may be beneficial. Staff may be requested to work multiple shifts and critical staff may need to be on campus to service critical campus systems.
- Some level of loss of essential employees to illness or to care for a loved one will require back up options for essential functions. Absenteeism attributable to illness, the need to care for ill family members, and fear of infection may reach 40% with lower but still significant absenteeism both before and after the peak (www.pandemicflu.gov)
- Also, absenteeism may be affected by the closing of public schools, quarantines, and other measures taken in the community.
- Those affiliated with NLC, even if they are not employed or enrolled, will require information on NLC's plans and implementation during the crisis. Parents and families, the surrounding community, governing bodies and elected officials will all require periodic updates.
- At all times, the health and safety of the campus community will be of paramount importance. Protocols for health and safety measures have been developed and are included in the Exposure Control Plan.
- This plan will apply to the initial outbreak, as well as subsequent waves of any outbreak.
-- Created Sept. 2009 | Review Date June 2010 -----