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 Post subject: Influenza pandemic could disrupt electricity-11/2008
PostPosted: Wed Mar 04, 2009 5:53 pm 
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U of M report: Influenza pandemic could disrupt electricity ... lectricity

PUBLISHED: 11/20/2008

If there’s an influenza pandemic across the country, getting sick might be the least of people’s worries — generating electricity might be issue no.1.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy released a report Thursday about the threat of losing coal power during the next influenza pandemic.

According to the report, an influenza pandemic could disrupt coal supply chains in areas where coal power is heavily relied upon. Overall, coal generates nearly half of the electricity in the United States.

Michael Osterholm is the director of CIDRAP who helped make the report. Last week, he was appointed to a global council on influenza pandemics.

He said if coal mines or transportation are interrupted, it would cause a domino effect of other parts of the country’s infrastructure.

“Without electricity, the underpinnings of so many other critical infrastructures or professions are left out into the cold,” he said.

Because of that, Osterholm said, coal miners need to be on the top of the list to receive a vaccine once one becomes available for a pandemic influenza virus.

“We have to, at all costs, keep electricity generated during a pandemic,” he said. “If we don’t, we could be in really serious jeopardy.”

Another main point, he said, is to keep more coal stocked to create a backup supply in case it’s needed.

“We need to play pandemic preparedness like a chess-master plays a match,” he said. “You have to look eight to 10 moves down the board every time a move is made.”

Doug Neville, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety , said if there’s a shortage of electricity in the state, they couldn’t do much about it. Coal plants are private businesses, and the MDPS can’t regulate them.

“We don’t have any regulatory authority, but we’ve reached out to the business community all over the state, especially in the critical infrastructure areas,” he said.

In an e-mailed statement, Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Hoen detailed the company plans for the possibility of a pandemic.

“Reserves of coal are kept on hand which would supply power for five to seven weeks,” he said in the e-mail. “If for some remote reason coal power was not feasible for an extended period of time, Xcel Energy has contingency plans.”

If there is an influenza pandemic in Minnesota, Aggie Leitheiser, the assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, said the MDH is working to be prepared for the health of Minnesotans.

“One of the things we’re working on is how do we manage health care with limited resources,” she said. “We’ve been doing a lot of planning around that.”

Leitheiser also said it takes more than just planning to be prepared for a pandemic.

“You don’t go from one piano lesson and then the next time you’re at Carnegie Hall,” she said. “You have to keep practicing and use the skills.”

Osterholm said this issue might be placed on the backburner, even though the threat of an influenza pandemic is high.

“I really am concerned about this in terms of the current economic crisis,” he said.

If actions aren’t taken now, he said, it might hurt down the road.

“We could pay for it now, or we will pay for it later,” he said.

Cross Posted to: 'Welcome'-The Need to Prepare

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