Community shielding is a concept first formulated in 2002 following the mail anthrax attacks. It is a comprehensive strategy in the event that a larger population faced a significant future pandemic bio threat. The concept of community shielding remains relevant in 2020 during the current COVID-19 crisis and provides a conceptual and strategic understanding of response that overlays the tactic of social distancing. In order to be effective, any strategic concept must fully support and enhance our society’s ability to strengthen long-established concepts within public health. Surveillance, detection, containment and isolation are necessary in order to mitigate excessive morbidity and mortality while at the same time preserving the capacity of our medical systems to provide for greatly expanded diagnostic and treatment needs. When planned prior to an event, community shielding requires implementation in advance of a pandemic in order to blunt the most severe costs to society.
Because of increasing concerns about bio threats for both contagious and non-contagious agents, whether naturally occurring or terrorism-related, it was clear then and now that a collaborative strategy best serves the public during a vulnerable period of infection and/or human-human transmission contagion. The concept recognizes the importance of clear communication from leadership and that when contagion is an issue, it can transcend the physiologic, emotional, social, political, and economic layers within society.
In the eighteen years since the concept of community shielding was first introduced, advances in social media and big data mining have both transformed and exploited democratic society. While they hold great potential, these social media and cyber advances can also be destructive. In fact, the immense wave of social media communication that held such early promise is difficult to efficiently surf. Both in size and in content, it may crash and engulf upon us with the flotsam of misinformation.
Community shielding is a cooperative effort between individuals, families, local government, business, non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups, and any other community resources to provide or augment food, water, medication, and other essential supplies to individuals sheltering in place in homes and other safe locations due to a natural, biological, chemical, or radiological disaster. To equitably serve local and regional needs, effective pandemic planning requires federal and state resources. While community shielding can serve as a national strategy, a range of specific tactics including social distancing, provision of lunch meals to out-of-school children who require them, and use of personal protective equipment, are critical elements. Each community shielding plan should be collaboratively tailored specifically to the community it serves with the understanding that they facilitate long established principles of public health.
What are the advantages of community shielding?
- Community shielding encourages Americans to do something now – to be proactive and prepare now instead of being reactive under emergency conditions.
- Community shielding promotes self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
- Community shielding encourages community specific emergency planning.
- Community shielding allows individuals to remain in their homes and communities instead of evacuating unnecessarily during a disaster.
- Community shielding is voluntary or self-imposed instead of forced.
- Community shielding is a “least restrictive” method of public health intervention compared to other methods i.e. forced quarantine or isolation.
- Community shielding can be implemented more quickly and easily and at an earlier stage than more restrictive measures and can, thus, reduce the need or scale of more restrictive measures.
- Community shielding provides a more psychologically and emotionally stable environment during a time of crisis, thus encouraging a more positive response to crisis and better decision-making.
- Community shielding avoids spontaneous evacuations that have their own inherent risks.
- In a biological disaster, community shielding helps break the disease cycle with minimal disruption to the routine activities of the nation such as the procurement of necessities.
- In a terrorist-caused disaster, community shielding helps citizens to defeat the objective of terrorists to disrupt and destroy the American way of life.
- Community shielding empowers citizens to stand and “fight” the situation instead of fleeing it.
- Community shielding encourages unity in the face of disaster. It empowers, gives hope and encourages resilience.
- Community shielding minimizes injury, death and damages while optimizing a successful recovery from disaster.
- Community shielding promotes successful survival in a disaster situation.