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Gaming the next pandemic

Department of Defense commissions "serious game" to prepare for the next influenza pandemic.


As anybody who's watched the movie Outbreak knows, when it comes to raging epidemics, the military will get involved at some point, the question is: in what way (PDF)?

To answer that, the Department of Defense (DOD) has commissioned the development of a simulation-based planning and training software application--a game, in other words, albeit a "serious" one--to help it to prepare for the next influenza pandemic.

The game will allow health care professionals and the military to recognize early signs of an outbreak, practice response tactics, and plot "local mitigation strategies" to limit the spread of disease, according to developer SimQuest, a technology-assisted education and training company.

"The world is due for an influenza pandemic, with the last one occurring in 1968, and there is a severe shortage of caregivers experienced in pandemic flu response," said Bob Waddington of SimQuest. "Unfortunately, an experienced caregiver from the last outbreak would likely be over 60 years old or retired. Our goal is to create an engaging training application for medical treatment facility administrators and supervisors, as well as the military, which can increase readiness and minimize the potential for chaos during the next pandemic outbreak of influenza."

The consequences of a worldwide pandemic are hard to predict because the biological characteristics of the virus are unknown, but the 1918 Spanish flu killed more American soldiers than World War I. A pandemic in the United States could result in 20-35 percent of the population becoming ill, according to government estimates (PDF).

The role of the military will include supporting domestic infrastructure and maintaining law and order, according to the DOD Implementation Plan for Pandemic Influenza. No mention of fuel air bombs.