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Editor’s Note: The World Prepares

The human toll of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic rightfully takes center stage when history reflects on the estimated 50 million people who died of the illness worldwide between March 1918 and March 1920. According to reporting for the BBC by Laura Spinney, the disease swept from an army recruitment camp in the U.S. state of Kansas in March 1918, to Europe, India, Australia, and New Zealand by June of that year.

Spinney, author of Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World, notes that public health campaigns made a difference in curbing the disease even though its cause was unknown. In 1918, such campaigns “took the form of quarantine zones, isolation wards, and prohibitions on mass gatherings; where they were properly enforced, these measures slowed the spread. Australia kept out the autumn wave entirely by implementing an effective quarantine at its ports.”

Quarantines, lockdowns, and empty streets in some of the world’s largest cities were once again on the news and on the minds of security practitioners around the globe as a new coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. While much remains to be learned about the outbreak as of Security Management’s press time, the disease has emphasized the need for governments to highlight pandemic preparedness and for companies to emphasize resilience.

The economic impact of the 1918 flu was largely on labor—the virus disproportionately struck down healthy young people aged 20 to 40. The modern-day aftershocks of a pandemic would not only be felt in the labor market, but also in the supply chain.

According to The Washington Post, the most severe economic consequences are likely to fall on countries neighboring China. “Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines are tied into production networks centered on Chinese manufacturers,” writes David J. Lynch.

Australia, a supplier of iron ore to China, and trading partners Japan and Germany are likely to feel aftereffects, according to Lynch. And, the virus “threatens to cut off U.S. companies from parts and materials they need to produce iPhones, automobiles, and appliances and drugs to treat medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and malaria.”

In this month’s cover story, Managing Editor Claire Meyer writes about the continuing vulnerability of populations around the globe to pandemics and how previous outbreaks can help organizations plan.

When the editorial staff discussed this article in December 2019, the rumors of the new virus were just filtering out of China, but we decided not to include details because so much was unknown. As of this writing, more information has emerged, but the path of the outbreak is still far from certain. While the citizens of all nations hope for a speedy end to the crisis, it also serves as a warning for those charged with security and safety that vigilance is a key part of a good security strategy.

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