If a pandemic flu outbreak hits Greencastle and a large number of employees become ill, will the city be able to function?
That and other questions were posed during Monday night's meeting between the Greencastle City Council and Putnam County health officials.
Mayor Nancy Michael said it will be vital for the city to remain in full operation even if a significant number of its employees are affected by the flu outbreak. This includes police and fire protection along with water and sewer service.
"It is important that we are prepared and that we can continue to function by providing essential services," Michael said.
As much as 30 percent of Putnam County's 37,000 residents could be affected, either directly or indirectly, by the flu if it strikes with the force that scientists are predicting, said Steve Walters, the county's public health coordinator.
Of those, 11,100 could become sick with the flu, 1,100 could need hospitalized and 111 could die.
One of the issues discussed Monday night was the potential that a lot of people may have to be buried at one time. City officials say they have already looked into the potential for needing a mass burial plot at the city cemetery.
"Pandemic flu is going to be the biggest disaster we've ever seen," Walters said.
Greencastle Safety Officer John McPherson presented the council with a copy of the city's pandemic flu response plan which outlines what each city department will do in case of a disaster.
Included in the plan are standard operating procedures for the Greencastle Police Department, water department, wastewater department, street department, cemetery department, parks and recreation department, city hall, and fire department.
The plan calls for different actions depending on the level of the emergency. Right now, the departments are operating in the first of a three-level system, McPherson said.
Level I involves educating city employees on the flu itself and telling them what they can do to hopefully avoid contracting the illness.
Level II includes cross-training city employees to perform tasks outside their normal job descriptions in the event that the person who normally does that job is unable to work. City employees may also receive vaccinations if one eventually becomes available. Right now there is no known vaccine.
Level III includes shutting down some city departments, sending some workers home and requiring other more essential workers, such as police and fire, to wear protective masks and gloves.
The Mayor said Monday night that she and the city clerk-treasurer could work from home if they had to.
If the pandemic flu hits Greencastle with full force, health officials warn it could come in two distinct waves. Those residents who get the flu first may start to feel better and return to work, only to still be carrying the virus and thus infecting the second wave of people.
Walters said the city should be prepared to operate under an emergency for quite some time and without the help of outside agencies.
"We can't rely on FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) coming in and saving us," Walters said.
He said he has been warned by state and federal officials that if the pandemic strikes, they would be dealing with the illness in their own employees and would not be able to help towns and cities in dealing with the crisis in their own communities.
"We're on our own," he said.
In the meantime, the Mayor and her staff say they are continuing to plan internally for the potential disaster and will do their best to make sure the city continues to operate even in the worst of situations.
They also said they plan to keep the public informed, as needed, through local media outlets such as the BannerGraphic, radio stations and the city's public access channel.
"It's going to be important for us to be able to communicate at all times," Michael said.
Walters has been conducting meetings similar to the one Monday night in various towns around the county. He said he plans to send out informative brochures to the public at large as soon as he gets the funding to pay for the printing.
For more information, Walters recommends going to the website www.pandemicflu.gov