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Flynn: U.S. Remains Unprepared for Major Epidemic

Interviewee: Stephen E. Flynn, Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Eben Kaplan, Associate Editor, CFR.org
April 28, 2009

Stephen Flynn, a leading homeland security expert, says initial U.S. efforts to mobilize in response to the swine flu outbreak have gone fairly well, and praises efforts to inform the public about the nature of the disease and the proper safeguards to avoid infection. However, Flynn cautions, "If it turns out that this outbreak is much more serious ... there is very limited capacity nationally to deal with an emergency of this scale." At the federal level, Flynn says the government would struggle to manage the situation and the medical system would be overwhelmed.

Without causing mass hysteria, it is important that the government clearly communicate the kinds of precautionary measures people ought to exercise, Flynn says. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of information that allows individuals to self diagnose and seek the proper care when they do feel ill.

Flynn says in addition to underlying weaknesses in U.S. preparedness for a pandemic, national capacity to safeguard U.S. citizens against any number of hazards--such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters--remains dangerously low. He says the American sense that "we'll be taken care of when things go wrong" is simply not true and that most often the responsibility for responding to a disaster falls to the state, local, or individual level. Flynn calls for a more "resilient" society, which he argues will not only make the United States safer, it will also foster a more competitive society.

Flynn provides a more complete analysis of how underprepared the Department of Homeland Security is in the May/June issue of the American Interest, which is available here.

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