Drivers line up at the entrance of Montgomery County’s first mass coronavirus test center in Upper Dublin Township on March 20, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Wil Acosta)

PERSPECTIVE: ‘Disease X’ Shows the Challenge with Paper Plans, Equivocation and Mixed Metaphor Communications

COVID-19 represents a new aka “novel” virus that arguably has caught the Global Community off guard. Yet on 7 February 2018 the WHO listed “Disease X” as a known unknown as a means to prioritize its effort to address response to diseases that do not exist. Supposedly, “Disease X” was intentionally included to help prioritize and focus efforts before they become known. One could surmise that within the response framework, it was included as a means to effectively plan and respond when these known unknowns surface.

Disease X was placed at the end of the list of the R&D blueprint as a concept that “represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease, and so the R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown ‘Disease X’ as far as possible.”

Whether COVID-19 becomes “that” disease or not, the 2018 inclusion of Disease X just may underscore a challenge in our collective ability to prioritize, plan and respond to emerging infectious diseases.

In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic we see this challenge manifesting itself in multiple ways across the global landscape. Science, fact and information are being diluted to a point where truth and fiction are colliding internationally. The result, at best, is confusing messages. It is an emergency. It is a crisis. It is a rapidly evolving situation.

Understandably this novel instantiation of an unexpected “disease” has created a fog in the world of epidemic/pandemic response. Yet, one might just ask if “Disease X” was placed on a list by the WHO in 2018, why are we seeing such mixed messaging? Why are we seeing such confusion in our collective response? Why has this situation caught us so off guard that we see sensational reporting and response to something that, had we truly put substance to the planning framework, we might not be experiencing the social media food fight we are being inundated with on multiple fronts?

Look, I am not a Ph.D. nor a scientist, so this is not an attempt to question the good and hard work that many of those around the world whom, experts in their fields, are working this issue tirelessly. It is a simple question or two on why did we get caught so off guard, and why do we find ourselves perpetuating the insanity of sensationalism through what, on the surface, seems an inordinate amount of equivocation?

Novelty by its very nature underscores the nature of the unexpected or unusual. But in the planning context, we knew that at some point we would experience something new and unanticipated. The gravity of the current situation should not be trivialized, nor should it fall prey to fearmongering, conflicting messaging, and agenda. I applaud those trying to stay in front of this, but collectively, we deserve better!

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Joel D. Anderson Colonel USMC (Ret) has more than 30 years experience in military, industry and academia. He currently serves as Development Director for Kansas State University within the Office of Research Development (ORD). Prior to joining KSU, he served as a Technical Director, Innovation Evangelist, and Senior Subject Matter Expert for ManTech International in support of HQMC Intelligence Department and its Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities (TENCAP) office and Technology and Innovation Directorate; and as the Director for Mosaic ATM, Inc.’s Autonomous Systems Group. Between 1984-2010, he served in the United States Marine Corps where he rose in rank from Private to Colonel. Mr. Anderson has spent a career supporting efforts to address the complexities of the intelligence community and interagency information management, decision making, talent acquisition, educational and operational environments.

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