The New York City Principals Pandemic Flu Survey: Are Schools Prepared?

It will be only a matter of time before another influenza pandemic occurs. Pandemic flu refers to a novel human influenza virus that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic. Researchers cannot accurately predict the timing, severity, or source of the next pandemic, but are certain it would present a myriad of issues for the public health infrastructures of our local communities. In the case of a pandemic flu outbreak, daily routine would be interrupted and school administrators would have many challenges to face. School principals in particular serve a unique role in their communities — they are the link between their schools and the outside world, as well as a means of communication between these two sectors. It is important for individuals in this role to be seen as a clear and constant channel of communication at all times, especially during an emergency. In October of 2006, researchers from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), in coordination with the New York City (NYC) based Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), conducted a web based survey of NYC school principals to gauge their level of preparedness and to address the concern of principals for the many consequences that may arise for their schools if a pandemic flu outbreak is to occur. 330 of the 1260 principals responded (26.2%). Among key findings were the following: 1) 84.1% of principals did not have a pandemic flu plan; 2) Among the few schools with a plan, four out of five principals were not familiar with it; 3) The overwhelming majority of principals said their school had no process for talking with parents, and few have been involved in community level planning efforts. Schools are a resource to the safety of the community, and the well-being of schools and the community are inexorably intertwined. Recommendations for the future center on the need for schools and communities to work together to prepare for pandemic flu, as well as other emergencies. Other important recommendations include improving upon the role of the principal as a risk communicator and integrating the pandemic flu plan into the school’s existing safety plan.

Disaster Preparedness
Pandemic Flu
School Preparedness