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Posted by on Mar 21, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 1 comment

War Games and Pandemics: Where are the Emergency Playbooks?

 

 

Countless studies do exist on what to do in case of national emergencies, including viral outbreaks.  The question is — why isn’t the Trump Administration following a plan?

 

When I worked at the State Department, I was assigned to Main State for a total of about nine months. One of the great privileges of working in that building was — with the proper clearance — having personal access to the vast library of information. Much of it is now digitized. But back then it was a real library with books and files and papers (on the third floor, I recall). Any State employee could go in and read most of the materials. One can only imagine how fascinating these topics were.

There were studies, contingency plans, predictions, historical analysis — binders packed with information on every conceivable scenario just about anywhere in the world.

For instance, if a remote American Consulate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was attacked, there was a plan. If the DCM was held hostage, there was a plan. If a Marine Security Guard got into a traffic accident on foreign soil, there was a plan. If a nuclear reactor in France melted down to the core, there was a plan. If the wheat market collapsed from a bug and 30 percent of the world faced starvation, there was a plan. If Pakistan launched missiles at India, there was a plan. No matter what the crisis — always go to the playbook. That was the plan.

When the American Embassy in Romania was overrun with refugees and visa requests and even had to evacuate because of a bloody revolution while I was there, we worked out of the file like it was a textbook. The instructions were like commandments.

State was but one federal agency of many with lots of plans and playbooks. Those I know who worked in intelligence and NSA and DIA and the armed services all did their own studies. They had plans and playbooks, too. We’re talking about the nation’s best minds working for years on what I would call “War Games.”

However, the playbooks were not always about war. More often than not, they dealt with things like economic collapses, natural disasters, technical breakdowns, and even threats like pandemics.

Now, we’re getting somewhere. You see where this is headed.

Government isn’t the only source of studies and “what if” scenarios. It’s what major think tanks are trained to do. They play games — with economies, trade, military occupations, corporate espionage, hacking, counter-terrorism, and every imaginable scenario. The Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, and others have experts who produce studies on what to do if shit hits the fan. That’s why they are in business, which is to play “war games” and then hand over the playbook when the time comes.

That’s not all. There are also academics. These are professors and medical people and scientists and other experts. They work mostly in colleges and universities, and research facilities. Some of them make it their life’s work to come up with contingency plans in case of various situations.

We see some of these academics in the news today, primarily from Johns Hopkins University, and other places. Certainly, their libraries have studies and dissertations on what to do in case of global/national pandemics.

So, let’s agree there is a multitude of information readily available on virtually every conceivable scenario related to a viral outbreak. We should know how to secure borders and streamline transportation channels. We should know what it takes to keep food distribution networks going. We should have the drafts ready to be signed and the orders prepared to be given. We should also have the studies done and the social science completed on what happens when perhaps half the country might be on lockdown. What happens to an economy on that scale?

What we are experiencing now shouldn’t be a surprise to those at the top of the federal government. The playbooks are there. There’s no excuse for indecision or delay.

Obviously, coming up with a cure or some way to slow down the virus wasn’t foreseeable. But MANAGEMENT of a pandemic is entirely foreseeable and should have been a relatively simple process. It’s called crisis management.  I am willing to bet hundreds of reliable studies have been completed on this topic, and dozens likely deal with the specifics of an outbreak of this magnitude.

Yet, all I have seen for the past month is an Administration that apparently has no idea how to manage a crisis. Sure, the medical experts and science people are doing their best. But the MANAGEMENT of this disaster has been criminal and the consequences could be catastrophic.

I’d be curious to read others’ thoughts as to why THE VAST ARCHIVE of materials on “what to do” in case of a viral outbreak has not been utilized. Naturally, no one expects political leaders to know every answer. Indeed, this is why playbooks exist. This is why they should be followed.

One reason why this Administration has done such a poor job thus far and communicated to poorly to the American public is, they apparently don’t like to read nor understand anything about the vast resources of government if they were to only use them effectively.

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1 Comment

  1. Read Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk.” Whenever there is a change in the White House all departments prepare detailed briefing books with all info needed for the incoming personnel to quickly get up to speed. Sadly, most in Trump’s administration either ignored or discarded these treasure troves of what the Government actually does and how it does it.

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