I will state up front that what follows is part opinion and part public musing.
As I buzz around the Cyber Flu Community and the PanFlu information sites (official and otherwise) I run across mention after mention of the threat of the "civil unrest" that is believed to be likely, at least in some places, during a moderate-to-severe PanFlu, should we experience one. What, exactly, is meant by the term civil unrest?
Generally, civil unrest is the term used to describe an incident whereby a group, or gathering, of people who are one or more of the following:
- Visibly displaying aggressive or an angry demeanor that would readily be interpreted as threatening to civil order or public safety.
- Engaging in behavior that is in some way illegal (ranging from illegal demonstration to private property destruction, or looting, or some combination of both)
- Either threatening, or engaging in physical violence
- The group is operating on some level of mob psychology
It is generally accepted by both officials, and those who follow the PanFlu issue, that there are likely to be riots over scarce medical care, medicines, and vaccines as people may feel unfairly denied something that they need. Other riots are envisioned if there is a shortage of food or water, or both.
These occurrences are being built into all levels and departments of governmental COOP's (Continuity of Operations Plans). While they won't be pretty, or especially comfortable to deal with, they are assumed to be readily manageable because of their localization. That will, unfortunately, have to wait for the history to be written before we know for sure.
But what about society as a whole; will it hold together if there is a shortage of food, water, medicine, medical care, utilities, in other words, physical comfort and wellbeing? I like to think so, but hey, I've already admitted previously that I tend to be naïve and idealistic. Yes, I believe that the vast majority of people are good and decent, and that they far outnumber the ones who are not. After all, we live in a civilized society, we, the collective we, because my assumption is that if you are reading these words you, too, live in a civil, orderly, environment.
Last evening I read an interesting article from The New Yorker "Swingers: Bonobos are celebrated as peace-loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated. Are they?" by Ian Parker. The article brought out various and sundry beliefs that the public hold about bonobos that are either in error, supposition, or fantasy. Toward the end of the long article is a bit about a very docile captive bonobo male:
Hohmann mentioned a recent experiment that he had done in the Frankfurt zoo. A colony of bonobos was put on a reduced-calorie diet, for the purpose of measuring hormones in their urine at different moments in their fast. It was not a behavioral experiment, but it was hard not to notice the actions of one meek male. "This is a male that in the past has been badly mutilated by the females," Hohmann said. "They bit off fingers and toes, and he really had a hard life." This male had always been shut out at feeding time. Now, as his diet continued, he discovered aggression. "For the first time, he pushed away some low-ranking females," Hohmann said. He successfully fought for food. He became bold and demanding. A single hungry animal is not a scientific sample, but the episode showed that this male's subservience was, if not exactly a personal choice, one of at least two behavioral options.
As the article's author is quick to point out, it doesn't prove anything about, or likely behavior in a broader population, but I believe it might be a disturbing peak into what underpins our civility: a fed stomach.
Food for thought as I remind you that experts and civil leaders, at every level, assume supply chain interruptions at the same time they offer no clear guidelines for stocking an emergency supply of foodstuffs. There are recommendations from three days to "at least two weeks". The CDC's recommendations to their own people are truly nebulous:
Should I stockpile food, water, medications? How long should a stockpile be designed to last? What are the Government's recommendations for personal and family stockpiles?
There can be no single approach to family and personal stockpiling that is perfect for everyone. Each family and individual must analyze their unique situation and needs and design a stockpile that works for them.
Below. Admirial John 0. Agwunobi, Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services, provides some important overarching preparedness principles not specific to a pandemic that should help strengthen your family and individual pandemic preparedness plan with regards to stockpiling:
1. A stockpile should be able to support its owner through a pandemic, a hurricane, a blizzard, an earthquake ... or any other circumstance that might require them to be self sufficient for a period of time until outside support can be reestablished.
2. For a family or individual to be prepared, they must have planned and practiced the ability to be self sufficient for the period of time it might take to get outside assistance in an emergency
3. One should be aware that the resources of a stockpile may need to be used at home, in a shelter or on the road during an evacuation
4. Given that the main purpose of a stockpile is really to allow the owner the time needed to reconnect to support from the outside world, it does not need to be aimed at assuring self sufficiency for prolonged periods of time. Even in the most extreme emergency circumstances the need for prolonged periods of self- sufficiency is very unlikely. (More information on preparing a stockpile)
A hungry population is likely to be an ill-mannered, restless, and potentially violent, society; that veneer of civilization that we sometimes hear about may be gnawed away should we have a severe pandemic.
Speaking of a fed stomach… I have a dinner to cook!