A post at Energy Bulletin recaps a recent presentation at the
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, in
conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The post is U.S.
public health community begins discussing peak oil.
The presentation was: Peak
Oil: Implications for Disaster Preparedness & Response (the
link goes to the event calendar, so it probably won’t be valid after a
while. The archives are here,
although the event hasn’t yet made it to the archives.) The PDF
versions of the presentation slides are here.
The Energy Bulletin post highlights some of the major
issues. The main point is that mainstream public health folks are
taking this very seriously, but still are in the early stages of
analyzing the problems and figuring out what to do. The post is
fairly terse, so there is not much point in providing excerpts
here. What I will add, is some of the highlights from the
presentation slides that got my attention.
In Daniel J. Barnett’s talk
(PDF link), he reminds us that in the 1973 oil crisis, there were
shortages of ethylene and benzene. So what? These are
precursors to many of the disposable plastic items used in
hospitals. There were, in fact, shortages of syringes.
These items are used because they are disposable, therefore
sanitary. Does anyone have a stockpile of glass syringes, the
ability to sterilize them in large numbers, and even the skills to use
them efficiently? How would reversion to this old technology
impact needlestick prevention practices? How would the workflow
be affected, especially in the face of a pandemic? This reminds
us that there is a real risk of acute shortages in the near future.
Only 74% of physicians responded (in a survey) that they would be
willing to come to work if there were an avian influenza
pandemic!!! The percentages were lower for nurses, and even lower
for other workers.
I suppose the dermatologists could stay home, but that number
astonishes me. (I have nothing against dermatologists: when you
need one, you are glad they are around).
He discussed some of the obvious things, such as the potential for
transportation problems in rural areas, the problems with the lack of
surge capacity in Emergency Departments, and the already high rate of
ambulance diversion to other hospitals because of ERs that are full.
He stressed the fact that psychological preparedness would likely
suffer in the face of a crisis, even more than usual, in the face of a
shortage of petroleum products. The only thing to do about that,
is to start preparing, psychologically, right now.
He also discussed the ethical issues that will arise. Mostly,
this has to do with old problems of rationing resources. The
thing about that, is that most people are not accustomed to thinking
about it in depth. They do not realize that health care already
He links to the Johns
Hopkins preparedness website, which is worth noting.
There were several other presentations, that I haven’t gotten through
yet. More to come on this topic.