U of M report: Influenza pandemic could disrupt electricity
http://www.mndaily.com/2008/11/19/u-m-r ... lectricity
BY CODY ZWIEFELHOFER
If thereâ€™s an influenza pandemic across the country, getting sick might be the least of peopleâ€™s worries â€” generating electricity might be issue no.1.
The University of Minnesotaâ€™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 countryâ€™s infrastructure.
â€œWithout electricity, the underpinnings of so many other critical infrastructures or professions are left out into the cold,â€
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.
â€œWe have to, at all costs, keep electricity generated during a pandemic,â€
he said. â€œIf we donâ€™t, we could be in really serious jeopardy.â€
Another main point, he said, is to keep more coal stocked to create a backup supply in case itâ€™s needed.
â€œWe need to play pandemic preparedness like a chess-master plays a match,â€ he said. â€œYou have to look eight to 10 moves down the board every time a move is made.â€
Doug Neville, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety , said if thereâ€™s a shortage of electricity in the state, they couldnâ€™t do much about it. Coal plants are private businesses, and the MDPS canâ€™t regulate them.
â€œWe donâ€™t have any regulatory authority, but weâ€™ve reached out to the business community all over the state, especially in the critical infrastructure areas,â€ he said.
In an e-mailed statement, Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Hoen detailed the company plans for the possibility of a pandemic.
â€œReserves of coal are kept on hand which would supply power for five to seven weeks,â€ he said in the e-mail. â€œIf for some remote reason coal power was not feasible for an extended period of time, Xcel Energy has contingency plans.â€
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.
â€œOne of the things weâ€™re working on is how do we manage health care with limited resources,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™ve been doing a lot of planning around that.â€
Leitheiser also said it takes more than just planning to be prepared for a pandemic.
â€œYou donâ€™t go from one piano lesson and then the next time youâ€™re at Carnegie Hall,â€ she said. â€œYou have to keep practicing and use the skills.â€
Osterholm said this issue might be placed on the backburner, even though the threat of an influenza pandemic is high.
â€œI really am concerned about this in terms of the current economic crisis,â€ he said.
If actions arenâ€™t taken now, he said, it might hurt down the road.
â€œWe could pay for it now, or we will pay for it later,â€ he said.
Cross Posted to: 'Welcome'-The Need to Prepare