The Ohio State University (OSU) developed an "options-based" pandemic plan that allowed staff to coordinate H1N1 response in a flexible and creative manner.
OSU began developing its H1N1 response plan in August 2009. Planners quickly realized a traditional method of triggering response activities based on illness and death rates would make the plan too rigid and slow-moving. An "options-based" approach allowed OSU to develop its plan around a bank of potential solutions from which actions can be selected and applied to a given situation. Rather than having staff rely on static step-by-step procedures, the "options-based" plan gave people the opportunity to use their problem-solving skills and resourcefulness in response to emerging situations. "[The plan] gave us a little extra freedom to make changes quickly rather than be tied to a black-and-white plan," said Bob Armstrong, Director of Emergency Management at OSU.
The plan covers six phases of the response cycle: Forecast, Educate, Alert, Monitor, Evaluate, Follow-up, and Re-evaluate. When an issue arose, OSU convened appropriate decision-makers and quickly chose an effective response strategy. OSU formed three different groups to address various areas of pandemic response: 1) A policy group consisting of executive-level decision-makers; 2) An operations group comprising staff from human resources, the registrar's office, and student life, among others; and 3) A communications group that included staff from University Communications, emergency management, and student life, among others. A communications sub-group was devoted to creating and maintaining a web site that disseminated information about OSU's H1N1 response.
Some of the potential issues covered by the plan include media and health department interaction, medical planning, student patient care, housing and meals during isolation/quarantine, and academic continuity. An action table assigned primary and secondary responsibility for resolving these issues to various university departments. Planners in the three groups met frequently, if not daily, to move forward with appropriate strategies to emerging situations. The decision-making process was fairly informal in order to preserve flexibility during response. One potential issue that arose was the fact that the plan did not account for other campus emergencies occurring at the same time as H1N1. However, "it was extremely successful, and I hope that we continue it in the future," Armstrong said.
Much of the plan's usefulness depended on strong support from senior leadership and high levels of staff involvement, creativity, and commitment to the process. An introductory statement to OSU's Pandemic Flu Preparedness Overview states: "No longer will events progress outside the scope of our plans because our plans will be living documents which will evolve with the resourcefulness and ingenuity of our faculty, staff, and students."