Related to MAKE 15, Outbreak
MakeShift 15: Analysis, Commentary, and Winners
by Lee D. Zlotoff
December 17, 2008
This was undoubtedly one of our trickier challenges since it assumed you were a medical specialist — which most of us aren't — and because there were lots of potential variables: the possible cause of the outbreak itself, the reactions of the passengers and crew, and the options of what you could actually do to manage the situation.
Still, you once again rose to the challenge and gave Dr. House a run for his money with lots of interesting and creative suggestions. It's fair to say not even all the doctors who entered came up with a complete solution to a situation with so many unknowns, but most of you managed to cover the basics with admirable thinking.
Step 1: Do what you can to prevent panic and reassure everyone, since hysteria would only complicate the situation and make it worse. On a plane that size, odds are there are other medical folks onboard: other doctors or nurses, etc. So those of you who suggested starting by rounding up all those with medical training and organizing them to manage the crisis were on the right track. With a team of people in action it's much easier to maintain calm, help those who are most in need, and gather as much information as possible to try and pinpoint the cause.
Your medical team would also facilitate the collection and distribution of any medications — both prescription and over-the-counter drugs — that might be available. Most people come onboard with a store of drugs for various aliments, particularly if they're traveling overseas. Your team could collect these from the passengers and also determine who among the afflicted should be given medication. They would also be able to instruct crew members on the correct method to keep people hydrated — all of which would go a long way to not only mitigating some of the symptoms but instilling calm and preventing panic.
Some of you also wisely considered the possibility of the pilots becoming ill and being unable to continue flying the plane. Here again, your medical team could discreetly survey the passengers as they questioned them about their conditions to see if there were any FAA-certified pilots among them in case the cockpit needed backup.
Many of you also suggested the excellent idea of instructing the pilots to activate the plane's oxygen masks to isolate all the passengers' breathing and avoid spreading potential airborne disease vectors — provided, of course, that the passengers understood why this was being done and that the plane itself was not in any jeopardy. In truth, this would probably just be another way to calm the passengers and reassure them that things were being done to contain the problem. Which brings up the question of isolation in general.
A lot of you thought to try isolating all the sick passengers into one section of the plane, but, as sensible as that sounds, by the time the outbreak has started, isolation would most likely not do much to prevent the spread of the disease in the closed confines of a pressurized aircraft. And splitting up families or friends, not to mention trying to rearrange all the seating, might only create unnecessary anxiety and chaos.
However, creating additional, makeshift bathrooms to alleviate the strain on the plane's existing lavs was another good thought.
And those who suggested establishing communications with experts on the ground were again on the right track. Such experts might provide invaluable advice in identifying the cause and controlling the spread of the outbreak, and be ready to assist when the aircraft arrives at the nearest possible airport.
While most of you understandably speculated that food poisoning was the probable cause of the outbreak, one entrant suggested that a gradual loss of cabin pressure at altitude might create a form of the bends, thereby resulting in sickness among the passengers. He suggested dropping the plane's elevation down below 8,000 feet and manufacturing a small smoker to see if the smoke was drawn toward a leak. Since aircraft have sensors that detect loss in cabin pressure, this scenario was not particularly plausible, but it was certainly creative and earned points for looking beyond the obvious.
So, while we earnestly hope none of you ever has to contend with a situation like this, it was comforting to know that — with or without specific medical training — most of you had a pretty good sense of how to cope with the crisis ... even though it was indeed a doctor who took the top prize. Then again, he had to pay for medical school and you didn't.
Thanks once more for all the sharp brain work and we look forward to seeing your entries on the next challenge.
The winners of the MakeShift Volume 15 Challenge are:
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