Up to 40 percent of Chandler city employees could call in sick in the event of a severe H1N1 “swine flu” virus outbreak this fall, officials say. However, the police and fire departments are putting in place staffing plans so emergency services won’t go unanswered.
Up to 40 percent of Chandler city employees could call in sick in the event of a severe H1N1 "swine flu" virus outbreak this fall, officials say.
However, the police and fire departments are putting in place staffing plans so emergency services won't go unanswered. And a new disaster response center - meant to gather information, house decision-makers and coordinate the city's reaction - is being assembled in a secure room on the top floor of the fire department's new downtown headquarters.
Battalion Chief Paul Nies, a fire department spokesman, said contingency plans meant to ensure that the department will have enough firefighters on hand to respond to calls for service were submitted to Fire Chief Jeff Clark late last week.
"Our goal is to keep city services functioning as normally as possible," Nies said. "Forty percent (out sick) puts us in a very difficult position, but we can still carry out the mission."
Detective Dave Ramer, a police spokesman, said his department has similar plans in the works. Police have to meet minimum staffing levels, he said, and off-duty officers could be called in to meet those requirements if needed.
"I know they've discussed it in detail," Ramer said. "We're going to make sure that we're staffed, without a doubt."
Nies said it's hard to predict when the virus could hit, and how severe the outbreak might be. Cases could begin showing up later this month, he said.
"It's a throw of the dice," Nies said. "Very typically for the regular flu you see it peak around Thanksgiving."
The annual volume of influenza cases generally subsides over the winter, then flares up again in early February, he said.
Chandler's emergency response operations center is slated to move into a secure room on the third floor of the fire department's new $7.7 million, 19,500-square-foot downtown headquarters in the first week of October. The existing emergency response center is on the site of Fire Station 283, south of Chandler Boulevard on the northbound frontage road of Loop 101.
The new location is situated on the south side of Boston Street, just east of Washington Street, behind the site of the new City Hall, now under construction on Arizona Avenue.
The control center's banks of desks and computers have not yet been installed. Nies said the H1N1 virus presents the most likely near-term scenario in which the room would be put into operation.
One potential problem could be a large number of calls to 911 for health-related issues, Nies said. If so, the department might have to prioritize calls to favor life-threatening emergencies, he said.
If a vaccine is ready in time for the outbreak, firefighters would help distribute it, he said. The department already dispenses vaccines for diseases like measles, mumps and rubella to hundreds of people a year.
"We have paramedics trained to do that," Nies said.
Craig Younger, a city spokesman, said other departments are working on plans to deal with possible staffing shortages, as well.
"We're in the process of reviewing a lot of our procedures at this point," Younger said.