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Internet Probably Couldn't Handle a Flu Pandemic 341

Several readers including mikael and gclef noted a report from the General Accountability Office suggesting that it should be Homeland Security's job to make sure the nation's business can flow during a pandemic. In particular, if H1N1 sends workers and schoolchildren home in large numbers, GAO thinks it might be a good idea for ISPs to prioritize traffic (favoring commerce over games, say), to reduce network speeds, and possibly to shut down high-traffic Web sites. DHS retorts that not only isn't it their job to control the Internet in this way, but the GAO is naive to believe it's even possible: "An expectation of unlimited Internet access during a pandemic is not realistic." "[DHS] does not even have a plan to start work on the issue, the General Accountability Office said. But the Homeland Security Department accused the GAO of having unrealistic expectations of how the Internet could be managed if millions began to telework from home at the same time as bored or sick schoolchildren were playing online, sucking up valuable bandwidth. Experts have for years pointed to the potential problem of Internet access during a severe pandemic, which would be a unique kind of emergency. It would be global, affecting many areas at once, and would last for weeks or months... Many companies and government offices hope to keep operations going as much as possible with teleworking using the Internet. Among the many problems posed by this idea, however, is the issue of bandwidth..."
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Internet Probably Couldn't Handle a Flu Pandemic

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  • prioritize traffic? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:27PM (#29888553)

    The internet will work just fine when everyone is home sick: It'll be sunday for a few weeks in a row. Big deal. This is just an excuse to try and tack demands for government control onto the latest media-sponsored thing to fear, and once they have it, "prioritization of traffic" will become code for "override the FCC's mandate on network neutrality". Fortunately, the deluge of flu pandemic stories already out there has desensitized people to the point that this will fizzle and go nowhere because it can't get above the noise of a thousand other demands for government control and funding for other things.

  • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:31PM (#29888657) Homepage
    Provide tax incentives to large companies to encourage as many of their workers as possible to telecommute as often as possible. This would accomplish a number of things:
    • It would alter the bandwidth landscape such that a pandemic would have a less significant sudden effect on the amount of dependency on home Internet connections.
    • It would reduce vehicle traffic on the roads during peak commute hours.
    • Per the previous item, it would reduce the amount of carbon emissions going into the air due to tens of thousands of cars sitting idle in traffic jams twice a day.
    • Per the previous items, it would also cut down on the volume of fossil fuels burned during commute hours and may assist in reducing our dependency on foreign oil sources.
    • It would reduce the volume of physical interactions between employees, reducing the likelihood of a pandemic spreading throughout an entire organization, and also reducing the flow of such a virus through society at large.

    I am sure there would be negative implications as well, but I think there is a lot to be said for encouraging an environment where there are more people working from home.

  • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:47PM (#29888917) Homepage Journal

    I fail to see why this is any different from other emergencies that have benefited from the free flow of information concerning problems

    The free flow of information in emergencies is a problem if you're a totalitarian government or, say, Iran. As of this moment it's hyperbole to apply that to the U.S., but the effective building of repressive regimes takes away liberties piecewise. H1N1 a national emergency?!

    The sun of our liberty won't just fall into the ocean, it'll gradually fade away through a twilight which has already begun.

  • by Mendoksou ( 1480261 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:49PM (#29888953)
    No, what will end Net Neutrality will be a criminal debate (priotitize traffic to limit piracy or child porn! It's for the children) or national security debate of some kind (those Korean Haxors will kill us all! PANIC!). The H1N1 thing will pass over too quickly (and I believe that Markey prsnts that bill every year... just this time he might finally get it through). But seriously... never waste a good crisis, right? If you do, people might think logically, and that's bad for policy.
  • Re:sigh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:03PM (#29889137) Homepage Journal
    Criticism. []

    The size and mission creep of the behemoth comes to mind. Data-mining, bloat, glorified security-guard hiring practices, over-reaching harassment databases. It was created as a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11, 'nuff said.

    It's purely business. Consolidate everything, hire cheaply, waste a-plenty. Morale goes through the toilet. I'm from a border town, and there have been articles in the paper spanning a few years describing the scumbags working the borders, to include widespread recent complaints of catcalls and groping crossing women. There is also a high turnover rate, low morale, and excessive overtime described in my hometown paper (sorry, won't tell 'ya).

    It seems that the DHS has been created with the same mentality of the proliferation of the ultra-powerful California prison system, and their famous border abuses of detainees are well-known. My personal favorite is forced injections of psychotropic drugs. Those can be found on GOOG, by the way.
  • Re:sigh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:09PM (#29889229) Homepage Journal

    Of course isn't is strange that the DHS doesn't even want this authority.... presuming that it was even possible to distinguish "legitimate" network traffic from video games without checking the "evil" bit.

  • Re:sigh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:19PM (#29889361)

    For myself, I'd rather that the FICA deductions were completely removed, added as a revenue neutral addition to the general income tax, and considered Social Security payments to be simply a form of social welfare instead of an entitlement.

    That pretty much is how the U.S. Congress has been treating the Social Security trust funds anyway since Tip O'Neil was speaker and Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Why not just make it official?

    Actually, if you ever read the various laws related to Social Security, you'll find that it was set up that way from the very beginning.

    The trick was that the average American in the 1930's found the idea of being "on the dole" shameful, so they had to hide the fact that under noise about "personal social security accounts", and such nonsense.

    Fortunately, it's becoming more obvious every year to more and more Americans that it's just another tax with some more welfare attached to it.

    Note that this is not meant to imply that SS is a bad thing. It's certainly better than letting the elderly starve, but it's arguably the worst way to avoid letting the elderly starve....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @07:11PM (#29890961)

    BAAAA! BAAAA! My TV says I must get the pig flu shot or I will die. BAAAA! []

    So if states have been asked to stop counting individual cases of the pig flu, how the hell do we know we have a pig flu pandemic? This is an experiment to determine if years of public education and pop culture shit have dulled your will and your wits enough to view the government as your supreme authority and savior. I'd say we're just about there, but not quite. The vaccine is mandatory - for now...

  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @12:05PM (#29898485)

    "That's a very disingenuous statement.

    First, it is implying that the H1N1 virus is going to pick up during the flu season. There's no reason whatsoever to believe that this is the case. The flu season typically does follow certain seasonal trends, but that's not true for new strains.

    Second, the flu season normally lasts about five months, so if it dies out on schedule, it will have killed about half again more kids than the normal seasonal flu. And probably far fewer people over 30."

    I believe it is you who are being disingenuous. He wasn't implying that H1N1 will "pick up", i.e. increase in occurrence. He was simply pointing out that we are seeing deaths from H1N1 outside of the timeframe that is normally associated with seasonal flu. By inference then we can conclude that it is somehow different than regular seasonal flu. And it will likely kill more people, in total, than seasonal flu, since it has had a head start. H1N1

    That being said, there is EVERY reason to believe that H1N1 will "pick up" throughout the normal flu season. That is because primary difference between this strain of H1N1 and the regular seasonal flu is that H1N1 has a substantially higher temperature tolerance than regular flu. Flu viruses are very sensitive to temperature in vitro - the difference of a few degrees means that the flu virus can survive for weeks on a surface vs. hours. So the reason why we are seeing H1N1 so early in the season is that it can survive the warmer environmental temperatures better. However, that does NOT mean that cooler temps are detrimental - it lasts just fine when it gets cooler. Now add to that the general decrease in health and immune system function during the cooler months, we certainly could expect more people to be infected than currently, and that they will have statistically worse outcomes.

    This ties into your second point. You are confusing the "epidemic cycle" timeline with the flu season. Flu season is 5 months long solely due to environmental temperatures - they are the 5 coldest months, which makes the virus easier to transmit via environmental surfaces. That's it. Since we already know that H1N1 has a higher temperature tolerance, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that it will have a 5 month "duration". Given the way it's behaved so far, it's more like 10 months - September to June.

    That being said, THIS DOES NOT MEAN IT'S 1918! But to ignore the fact that H1N1 is substantially different than regular seasonal flu is whistling in the wind. You yourself acknowledge that it has a different pattern of morbidity: "it will have killed about half again more kids than the normal seasonal flu. And probably far fewer people over 30." And the virus, on a statistical basis, is much more contagious than seasonal flu, simply by the fact that it stays in the environment longer. These facts are NOT controversial. So why does simply stating them get you in a tizzy?

    There's another thing to consider. H1N1 appears to be a "mild" pandemic. Great. But the fact that it stays in the environment for so long, and so extends it's "season", there is a substantially higher risk that people will become infected with H1N1 and another strain simultaneously. This has the potential to be a Very Bad Thing. Different strains of virus can swap genetic material in that situation. Which brings us back to the previous flu scare, H5N1. Except that it isn't "previous" in an epidemiological sense - it's still chugging along. H5N1, which has a VERY high case fatality rate, hasn't gone pandemic because the virus hasn't evolved to allow easy human-human transmission. So we've dodged that bullet. But what happens if someone gets infected with H1N1 and H5N1 simultaneously? There is the potential for the viruses to swap genetic material. One result would be a virus with the CFR of Swine Flu and the transmissibility of Bird flu. Which may well have occurred already, because such a viral strain would immediately die o

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