County starts planning for bird flu epidemic

If a major flu epidemic hits Snohomish County, it would not only sicken thousands of people, it could affect police and fire services, health care, business and education.

Therefore, in May, up to 150 people will begin work on preparing Snohomish County for a major flu outbreak.

The effort is being launched by County Executive Aaron Reardon, the Snohomish Health District and the county Department of Emergency Management.

Martha Robins, interim director of the Department of Emergency Management, said she could not overemphasize how important the effort is.”

“It’s a huge step forward that the county and health district are pulling together all parts of the community and saying what do we need to do to be prepared,” she said.

The group will work to ensure that essential services continue in the event of a massive flu outbreak, Robins said.

“There will be widespread panic and fear,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re getting out key information to the public, and ensure that they understand that public safety and other essential services will be provided for.”

Representatives of police, fire, public health, schools, local and county governments, utility and tribal groups will come together to work on the planning effort, said Nancy Furness, an emergency preparedness specialist for the Snohomish Health District.

Last year, public health officials said a global flu epidemic could cause up to 200,000 illnesses in Snohomish County – or about a third of the population – and as many as 6,000 deaths. An estimated 25 percent of workers could be off the job at one time.

The group will identify the potential problems a flu outbreak would cause and how emergency services, health and other groups providing public services could respond, Furness said.

Police, fire, public health and other groups already have planned a training exercise in June.

Snohomish County expects to have its flu plan ready to turn in to the state by November, Furness said.

The plan for such an emergency “will be worth its weight in gold if this should happen,” Robins said.

“We hope it doesn’t, but if it does, we want to ensure we’re prepared.”

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

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