Portland auditor: City almost prepared enough for pandemic flu outbreak

Report says regional officials need to continue honing emergency plans

Although Portland government has made progress preparing for a pandemic flu outbreak, some work - including greater coordination with federal, state and local emergency preparedness organizations - remains to be done to ensure that the city does not shut down in such an instance.

That is one conclusion of an audit of the city's flu preparedness efforts released Tuesday. Titled 'Pandemic Flu Planning: City bureaus aware of national plans,' it was conducted by the Office of the City Auditor at the request of the U.S. Government Accountability Office as part of a national effort to determine how well the country is prepared to respond to a pandemic flu outbreak.

'Portland is very much aware of and planning for such a pandemic, although there is more work to be done,' said Drummond Khan, head of the Audit Services Division of the auditor's office.

According to the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, a virulent human flu outbreak could overwhelm health and medical resources and 'ultimately threaten all critical infrastructure by removing essential personnel for the workplace for weeks or months.' The U.S. Office of Homeland Security has called on state and local governments to prepare for such an outbreak.

Although the federal government has made preparing for a flu pandemic one of its top priorities, in the Portland area, primary responsibility for health issues rests with Multnomah County. Despite that, according to the audit, the city still has a major role to play.

'Law enforcement, infrastructure maintenance, resource managers, and political leadership must all plan to be ready for the City's response and continuing operation in case pandemic flu reaches Portland, or suppliers that our services depend on,' the audit read.

Auditors surveyed the mayor, city commissioners and officials at eight agencies that would be on the front lines in case of such an outbreak. The audit found that several steps have already been taken to comply with the federal requirements, including a Pandemic Flu Summit that brought multiple agencies together in March 2006 and the ongoing preparation of a plan for the continuation of city operations.

But the audit also found that level of awareness varied among the officials, and that there is a 'lack of coordinated planning among federal, state and local organizations.'

The audit called on the Portland Office of Emergency Management to work with affected bureaus to improvement their preparedness.

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Related document:

Pandemic Flu Planning: City bureaus aware of national plans