Officials spread word on pandemic

LAWRENCEVILLE - One hundred down, 700,000 to go.

Officials gathered 100 business, civic, government and religious leaders together Thursday to start preparing for a possible pandemic flu outbreak in Gwinnett. They hope the news spreads to every resident.

While the World Health Organization has warned that the deadly bird flu outbreak in southeast Asia and other parts of the globe could devastate the population, a mutated virus has not yet emerged. If or when it does strike, health officials believe more than 600 people could die in Gwinnett and up to 126,000 people could get sick.

Thursday's turnout "shows that the community has already recognized how important this issue is," said Connie Russell-Tew of the public health department. "We want to be prepared as organizations and agencies, but the take-home message for today is we really need to prepare as individuals."

People should prepare now by stocking up on food, medicine and masks and gloves, Health Department Director Lloyd Hofer said.

"This is the time to prepare. Everybody needs to hear this message," he said. "Our goal is not to frighten you but to spur you to individual action."

Frank Daniell, who is in charge of Gwinnett's emergency management department, said he envisioned a network of churches, employers, schools and the government getting the word out to citizens.

While the county helped respond to Hurricane Katrina last year, he noted that communities wouldn't be able to count on outside help if a flu struck - people would be sick everywhere.

That means transportation networks and food delivery could be disrupted and businesses and schools could be closed. Up to half of the work force could be sick at any time, he said.

Russell-Tew said people should plan for everything from child care to pets.

Norcross resident Bob Tribble said he was encouraged by Thursday's turnout. As president of a Georgia organization that gets volunteers together to help in a disaster, he said he's seen community action spurred when only five or six people show up to an initial meeting.