Lessons from the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met with UC Berkeley students to explore the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009 and what lessons that pandemic might have for our current situation. Lesson number one: good communication is essential.

According to Sebelius, Epidemiology has a couple of core principles – one of which is providing clear, concise, accurate communication on a regular basis. One of the dramatic differences between the 2009 outbreak and what happened in 2020 was that the communication was inconsistent, often inaccurate, and contradictory.

During a fast-moving, global health crisis, you have to make decisions based on the information you have, says Sebelius. Taking no action is not an option. You’re going to probably makes some mistakes along the way, but then you correct them and move on. Napolitano adds that during the H1N1 pandemic, it was important to hold press events regularly and repeat basic public health messages like washing your hands and practicing social distancing because, if you get the communication part wrong, your crisis management will lack credibility. Indeed, it’s essential to communicate with the public not only what is known, but what is not known, as well.

Hear more about the importance of good communication and other lessons learned during the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009. Watch The United States Pandemic Response: Lessons from the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009 .