A 2002 Disease Threat Offers Lessons for Avian Flu Preparedness

Armen Hareyan's picture

Prepare for Bird Flu

As public health experts discuss how best to prevent an avian flu epidemic in the United States, La Follette School of Public Affairs assistant professor Donald P. Moynihan says a recent avian disease outreak offers important clues.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison public affairs professor outlines his ideas in a 2005 report, "Leveraging Collaborative Networks in Infrequent Emergency Situations," for the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Moynihan's suggestions are rooted in the response to an outbreak of a disease in California and other western states that threatened the U.S. poultry industry in 2002 and 2003. A task force of state and federal responders was created to eliminate the threat of Exotic Newcastle Disease.

Moynihan, who joined UW-Madison this fall, has research and teaching interests in performance management, homeland security, citizen participation and public budgeting. In particular, he studies the selection and implementation of public management reforms. He is working on a book entitled "Rethinking Performance Management," to be published by Georgetown University Press.

Like bird flu, Newcastle Disease is lethal to poultry and transfers via bird feces, says Moynihan. The primary challenge facing the task force was to identify the spread of the disease, quarantine affected areas, test or euthanize millions of birds, and clean affected premises and dispose of carcasses in biosecure ways.


As states and the federal government plan to deal with the threat of bird flu, eliminating the spread of the disease among birds will be a critical part of any response, Moynihan says.

No single organization is capable of dealing with an unusual, infrequent and large-scale threat such as bird flu, Moynihan says, meaning that collaborative networks like the Newcastle Disease task force will necessarily be part of the solution.

From a public management perspective, networks are a set of connected actors involved in the delivery of services. These multiple organizations depend on each other and interact outside of a traditional hierarchy. To succeed, such networks of responders generally rely on a mixture of centralized formal command and control, and trust built among their members over time.

One management lesson that emerged with Newcastle Disease was the importance of advance planning and prior relationships in crises, Moynihan says. Good preparation helped those involved get to know one another and identify the best responders if an emergency did occur.

"In responding to Newcastle Disease, the task force approach quickly helped participants to learn, codify and share operating procedures based on field experience," Moynihan says. "They created a skilled staff that provided continuity during the crisis and kept information flowing across several states."

Their success in keeping the disease under control explains why most people have not heard about Newcastle Disease, Moynihan adds. "What public managers learned two and three years ago can provide valuable lessons for people addressing the potential problem with bird flu."