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Pandemic Flu Angst


In the aftermath of my cover story from last week, "Dead Serious" about Vermont's level of preparedness — or lack thereof —  for the next major flu pandemic, several readers and close friends were quick to, um, "thank" me for the hours of lost sleep they endured worrying about the next ultra-nasty bug that will afflict the human race. Several told me that they've started adding a few extra items to their weekly grocery runs (a prudent move for any disaster preparedness), while others asked me what's the best way to store water for extended periods of time. (I suggested buying those big bottles of water that sit on office coolers.)

Personally, I admit that on my drive home from interviewing Ross Nagy at Vermont Emergency Management in Waterbury, I made a quick detour into Home Depot to pick up a few disaster-related essentials, including a hand-powered AM/FM radio, extra batteries for the flashlights, duct tape (which has myriad uses in a pinch), a box of surgical masks, and a bottle of bleach. (The $600 generators were a tad out of my price range, at least for now.) Then, over the weekend I stopped into Costco for some oversized containers of nonperishable and canned food items. While my wife seems mildly amused that I'm getting in touch with my inner survivalist — I did live in the mountains of Montana, after all  — she seems relieved that I've finally found myself a hobby.

In the meantime, several folks have asked where they can find more information on preparing for pan flu, and for keeping up on the issue. I suggested the flu wiki, which has oodles  of titillating and terrifying tidbits to keep the whole family sleepless for at least a fortnight.

Another interesting suggestion comes from Eric Gundersen with the Washington, D.C. communications firm, Development Seed, which helps international development organizations build tools for better communicating with their geographically dispersed teams. Gundersen uses an open-source program on to monitor a variety of news sources, from traditional media outlets, such as newspapers and magazines, to blogs, video sites and micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter.

"I can track the mention of ‘chicken’ in eight different Asian languages in real time coming across micro-blogging platforms," Gundersen says. "What’s cool about this is that people can use whatever means of communication they’re going to use to talk about stuff, and if you listen in right, you can start noticing patterns, and notice them sooner.

“The growing problem is there’s a lot of information out there and it causes a lot of noise," Gundersen adds. "What we’re trying to solve is how do you increase the signal ratio, so the noise is actually valuable. Never before could we hear so much stuff and hear people’s musings to such a point and get early warning about things.”

Well, I'm just glad someone's out there listening...