Why An Ebola Outbreak In An Advanced Economy Has Even Harsher Ramifications

(Editorial note: The following could be read by some as trying to be controversial for that sole purpose. That is not the intent. Its raison d’être is for the sole purpose not to spur some “thinking out of the box” it’s to remind, more often than not, “there is no box.” You might want to visit this accompanying article first to understand the rationale behind it. Or, as a follow up.)

As we sit here today the Ebola disease has now moved not only off the African continent, but has made its way past all the barriers, checkpoints, safeguards and more that we were told are “in place.” And, has been officially diagnosed in a patient in none other than one of the United States most populous areas Dallas Texas.

I needed to make that review for it should provide some insight and background as I move forward and express other thoughts. For it is important that we keep things in perspective, as frightening as they just might be.

Along with this let me put out a few details about myself so there is also some context for the standpoint of where I’m coming from.

First, I’m a businessman. I write, speak, and help business people of all shapes and sizes address issues others just either can’t, or don’t even see. That said I also have background in the understanding of government protocols in one of the most encompassing areas: food safety.

I was part of the first in the nation to be trained, certified then formulate procedures, and protocols into a documented corporate standard operating procedure in accordance with U.S.D.A. approval and oversight when they introduced its new and revised Food Inspection Service program incorporating the NASA inspired H.A.C.C.P. program.

So with that said, it is for this reason why I am discussing this issue of Ebola in the ways I am. For I am not an alarmist, nor do I want to be seen as someone banging pans in a central square with a placard around my neck stating “The End Is Nigh!”

However, what I do want to get across is what may be in store along with the evolution of that process with its possible speed. As far as I can surmise, not only is no one talking about some alarming risks. Rather – it seems no one is giving it even the slightest hint of any consideration.

Here’s what we know. We currently have what is now being referred to as “Patient Zero” in a Dallas hospital under quarantine. What we also know is by all accounts the reporting of the possible contact or spread to individuals has gone from only a handful the day of the report, to now it’s been reported over 100 people including school children and others.

Adding too this both the response and the subsequent isolation and cleanup measures have done more to instil more cause for worry – than anything resembling reassurance for control or containment.

And that’s just Dallas. Now there are reports of Hawaii, Utah, DC, and possibly others where we just don’t know yet. Again, what we do know, is that – it is here. Period. And with that comes a whole new set of lenses to view possibilities through if one wants to be active and possibly be ahead of the curve in one’s business.

The reasons and consequences to be proactive should be self manifest. This is now uncharted territory and only prudence and eyes wide open with all scenarios on the table thinking will help one self inoculate from what might be in store. Or at the least help in minimizing potential losses.

Let’s explore a few “what ifs” and understand the potential impact that the general population at large just wont understand along with what is glaringly obvious; the main stream media willfully wont address.

Currently the focus of the potential spread of this disease is on the impact of infecting a large swath of the general population at large. And that alone is a frightening aspect.

However, the problem with this thinking is that it fails to address the more relevant factors in an advanced economy. i.e., What happens when just a small yet vital minority of the population gets hit? As in – the specialized work force?

Today the focus is on what we do if a large percentage of the population comes down with symptoms, let alone the actual disease. If one is symptomatic and feared exposure is present, quarantine will be inevitable.

What if one or more of those forcibly quarantined works for say a nuclear power plant? What if they were showing signs where transmission concerns are valid and they were at work during a day, an hour, what ever?

Do you now quarantine the entire control room staff if that’s where they were? And if so – who and how do you get replacements? Not only to fill their positions, but to actually go into what many will consider a contaminated area? Can you clean it in a  timely manner? Can you clean it at all?

For those who may be thinking “Here come the fear mongers” that’s far from the case. The above example is only to get one thinking, for if I may be so bold, when I wrote “Clarifying Why’s With What If’s” a great many lined up to tell me just how foolish of a notion that thinking was. Yet, within days we had reports of possible cases, and now only weeks later, not only is it here, but we have growing concern it’s far more wide-spread than first thought.

So lets move the nuclear power plant scenario off the table for those that can’t get their heads past the implications, and move to something that can have just as much impact: Our nations port workers.

We’ve all seen the pictures of merchant ships coming in from different countries loaded to the brim with cargo containers stacked so high many wonder how these vessels even float let alone sail. And many never stop to realize, nearly everything we touch or use on a daily basis comes to us via those ships.

What else many fail to realize is all that cargo, all those thousands upon thousands of containers that are removed as well as loaded onto these vessels: is done by no more than a handful of specialized crane operators.

What if one of these infrastructure critical workers were to become ill? What’s worse – what if they were to become symptomatic where transmission was possible within the actual cab itself? Who could replace them? Who would? Just like the scenario I asked in the prior example: could you decontaminate the area as in the actual crane cab?

The issue that has so many looking in the wrong direction is that they are looking at the spread and its implications via the lens of what is viewed as a third world environment and populace.

The issue is that as horrible and as devastating of loss or infection within a population can be, the effects within an advanced population can have potential impact to millions just as fast – even though they may be hundreds of miles.

A third world populace by its very nature is more of an economically self-contained environment. In an advanced economy water alone for a million homes, or waste treatment for 6 counties might be handled hundreds of miles away by only a handful of specialized workers.

Sound hyperbolic? Fair enough, but what exactly happens to an airplane, or airline, or for that matter all the passengers when the first occurrence of a hazmat suited team boards planes and removes passengers as that which happened in Newark just yesterday becomes wide-spread?

That’s why every single case of Ebola has the potential for disruption that can effect millions in ways an advance population wistfully thinks won’t or can’t happen here.

The default way of thinking is “Well we have the healthcare expertise to deal with this.”

Well, yes that might be true. But here’s my counter: “Expertise in medicine means nothing if you have to shut down a port, power plant, police force, water treatment facility, air traffic control tower, ___________ (fill in the blank) as you wait for 21 days just to see if there’s even something to treat.”

The disruption to a population during that time can be near as devastating as having the actual virus. Again – and they can be perfectly healthy and hundreds of miles away.

What happens to our banking infrastructure if an employee was found symptomatic at a clearing center? What then?

How about our stock markets which are by all accounts 70% if not more total volume dependent on High Frequency Trading? What happens if one of these facilities or a few technicians becomes symptomatic and contagion concerns are warranted within their offices?

The havoc that one scenario alone could cause along with its own monetary contagion fears throughout the world economy has the potential to dwarf the initial impact of any actual virus.

There are other scenarios just as scary – and just as feasible .

We all can understand the potential impact at the food supply level in the where or how people react or panic if food supply lines are disrupted.

However, what happens to a seemingly well-behaved town or community if suddenly their local pharmacy can’t supply their medications because the distribution warehouse has experienced a lock-down because a dock worker was found to be symptomatic and possibly courageous?

Suddenly you would have not only routine maintenance prescription users in jeopardy (e.g. blood pressure medication, etc.) but rather in many communities just as large of a populous suddenly made to go cold turkey off some very powerful, and highly addictive medications from pain to psychotic.

These are the issues any professed business person needs to take into account and prepare for the best they can. Not later – but now.

Again, this isn’t to be alarmist, this is prudence, because all these scenarios are currently on the table. Whether or not they come to fruition is something we’ll all gladly breathe a sigh of relief in when warranted. Yet, as of today, anything lackadaisical in thinking, planning, and viewing all potential disruptions to one’s business would not only be foolish, but downright irresponsible in my book.

Some might be thinking “OK, but they have to be infected, or symptomatic first, and the transmission we’re being told is not that easy unless they are.”

Yes, that may be true. Again I’ll reiterate: “What if the people critical to certain infrastructure needs is fine, has no issues, but ( and it’s a very big but) lives in an area, or an apartment building, or has family such as a wife or child that has just been isolated as in quarantined?”

Are they going to leave their family member in what they may perceive as a dangerous environment? (Think hurricane Katrina and the Superdome™ environment for clues to back up the term “dangerous.”)

Will there be a sudden need to forcibly “quarantine in place” these highly specialized workers in the chance of an outright pandemic situation? What impact might that have?

Time flies when there are no perceived dangers. But forcibly demanding and instilling 21 days in isolation or quarantine for the purpose of locking down key personnel, away from their own families during a crisis, whether it be for water, police, distribution, technological, and more, will be viewed as imposing a life sentence in prison for those involved should the right forces cross paths at the wrong time.

And it doesn’t take a lot. Just a few of the “right” ones to send shock waves throughout an economy and the citizenry at large.

Many also forget 21 days is just about what any local supermarket has on hand for inventory at any given time. And that is when everything is going as planned. Not when the undertones of a nearing panic starts to take hold.

Most people living in today’s day and age of an advanced economy have forgotten that with all those advancements we’ve made – we’ve also created some weaknesses as well as strengths.

One of those flip sides of “strength” is the weak point of disruption in a “just in time” inventory market place. Or to put it more succinctly: Many times what you perceive as being in a backroom of an establishment for reserve inventory is not only not in the backroom – there is no backroom.

What you may pick off a shelf might not have even been in the same state let alone store just days prior. Inventory management along with modern distribution channels give the seamless impression there is always more at the ready. But that’s not the reality. And it doesn’t take anything more than a power outage, or weather related event to remind one of this fact.

I’m not saying you need to be hunkering down in some spider hole waiting for the end of the apocalypse. However, what I am saying is that whether you’re a solo practitioner, or the CEO of a Fortune 500™ or even a Fortune 50™: to not be sitting down with key personnel and opening up discussions of thoughts and asking tough and pointed questions on the how’s or if’s that can transpire to effect your business and formulating plans to the best one can as to possibly deal with known variables is not only foolish, it’s down right lunacy.

Let me further my argument with this point. Back in early 2011 before protests and protesting took hold in the way we’ve seen of late I penned the following article:  Protests at home and abroad and what it means for your business .

This was when the first inclinations of how unrest and more were being seen in Greece. At the time no one thought they would go any further than within the Greek population for they had issues that we were told by the so-called “smart crowd” we don’t have here and as such “would not be any need for concern here.” Then the Occupy movement took hold.

Forget about all the others that have taken place since then. Now just look at Hong Kong. Imagine trying only now to formulate a plan on how to deal with the disruption if you were located or had to do business on that thoroughfare.

Not looking at the total risk and asking what impact things could have while asking relevant questions and putting into place prudent measures on the best way to deal with them as something such as this makes its way through the economy again isn’t just crazy – it’s nuts.

It’s almost as absurd as what we are now being told by the people supposedly in charge, and in control of what is currently transpiring.

You know, where you’re told at a national press conference that “It’s illogical and wrong-headed to consider quarantine or isolating the source country as to help contain this deadly virus.”

Yet, the first thing we are to do when we determine its whereabouts here – is to isolate and quarantine it as to not spread it.

Do I need say more?

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr