Saving Lives in the Next Pandemic

In 1918, a flu pandemic swept the world and killed an estimated 50 - 100 million people -- at a time when the global population was less than one third of what it is today. This pandemic occurred when an avian flu virus, to which humans had no immunity, acquired the ability for efficient human-to-human transmission. Today the avian flu H5N1 virus is spreading across the world, and evidence from its human cases suggests that it has the potential to cause a pandemic as severe as that of 1918.

In the event of such a pandemic, the health care system will be overwhelmed. Even with emergency measures, hospitals and health professionals will not have the capacity to treat more than a very small portion of those who become infected by the virus. Coping with such a widespread disaster and reducing the loss of life will require individuals and neighbors to inform and organize themselves, and one of the largest challenges of pandemic preparedness is how to do this effectively.

Working with domain experts, technologists, and front-line organizations, this project developed three innovative solutions for informing and organizing individuals and neighbors to create resilient communities in the event of a pandemic.




Seminar, 2007 Spring


The team's three proposed innovations were mentioned in the Homeland Security Council's report, National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza: Implementation Plan One Year Summary (p. 21).

When a flu pandemic broke out in Mexico in March 2009, the schools report was translated into Spanish by an NGO for use by local officials. It was translated both for Mexico and again for use in other South American countries.

Some members of the SIE team continued after the seminar working with Google on the web tool for emergency communication. The technology became available just as the pandemic spread to the U.S. It was used by Santa Clara County, and the CDC sponsored a toolkit to help other counties use the technology.

Fortunately, this pandemic was relatively mild, and the hotline innovation was not needed. Should one be required in other emergencies, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) now has a document describing how such a hotline can be set up.

Finally, one of the SIE team members joined InSTEDD, a project partner, after graduating, and went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Google and the team developed a web tool for those displaced by the earthquake to find one another. This person finder software was deployed by Google for Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.