02 October 2003

Confusion hampered SARS fight, inquiry told

The Globe and Mail

Confusion hampered SARS fight, inquiry told


Disorganization, poor communication and the province's antiquated data collection system hampered the efforts of scientists to understand and contain SARS, a representative of the Ontario SARS Scientific Advisory Committee testified yesterday at public hearings.

A provincial centre for disease control should be created to manage future outbreaks of infectious diseases and monitor provincewide surveillance, Brian Schwartz recommended to the SARS Commission on the final day of hearings.

"There were times when we were concerned as an organization that we could have done better. I'm an emergency physician used to making order out of chaos, and the fact of SARS was it was chaotic," said Dr. Schwartz, vice-chairman of the scientific advisory committee and a physician at Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Sciences Centre.

The members of the scientific committee, which was struck to help the province manage the SARS outbreak, had no direct access to data on SARS patients, Dr. Schwartz said.

Operational Risk encompasses the risk of loss from external events like the SARS incidents across the globe. Biological viruses and digital viruses have common traits in many ways. They both travel undetected for days and even weeks before symptoms of their attack becomes apparent. Without systems to constantly monitor and correlate information, (EMPHASIZE "CORRELATION"), then the threat matrix will become useless. Change management is the key to more effective operational risk mitigation.

How does management decide what strategies will work? That will be dependent on several factors:

1. Are members of management and the board ready for change? (as a result of new losses from new threats such as SARS, declining sales or new legal exposures) Is there enough uneasiness among stakeholders to create the catalyst for new plans or strategies? If this dissatisfaction doesn't exist, is there audit evidence that it should?

2. If management is ready for change, how might internal or external stakeholders react to proposed changes? This could involve regulators, customers, employees, unions and strategic partners.

Communication of information that is uncorrelated can trigger events that increase your risk of loss. That is why the most savvy OPS Risk organizations have overhauled their enterprise architecture to facilitate a rapid and optimized response to new threats, be they biological or digital.

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