Ben Walker

In May 2006, Michael Leavitt, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, was quoted as saying, "Pandemics are global in nature, but their impact is local. When the next pandemic strikes, as it surely will, it is likely to touch the lives of every individual, family and community. Our task is to make sure that when this happens, we will be a nation prepared."

To me, that quote says it all — a nation prepared.

In 2005, the U.S. government created a pandemic planning and preparation task force to address the need of a playbook for the next impending pandemic. At that point, we as a nation had been lucky enough to thwart a global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Avian Flu in 2005.

The Bush Administration's primary goal for developing the task force was to examine all business sectors, public and private, to assess the risk associated with a lengthy pandemic. The effort was a sizable government-wide collaboration led by the Department of Health and Human Services, and involved input from the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, Defense and State.

As years went on, the task force continued in its development and was expanded upon throughout the Obama administration. Unfortunately, the current administration considered the effort excessive and defunded it, ultimately tabling any continuity — or bolstering of a broad-reaching national response and prevention plan. Politics aside, it's important to understand that the planning and response included cleaning.

In fact, the custodial management team at Sandia National Laboratories, a significant government research and testing operation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shared best practices and insights with the Department of Energy's pandemic planning team. In 2007, the same management team was able to declassify that information and share it with peer groups throughout the country.

The situational assessments, predictions and facts, at the time, seemed reasonably esoteric. However, reviewing this in hindsight is somewhat accurate.

According to the report, there have been at least 10 pandemics recorded in the past 300 years. Experts estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of the world's population would become infected or unable to work due to an outbreak in the event of a global pandemic. This would not happen at once; instead, it would continue in 6 to 8 week increments of outbreaks and would be ongoing for up to 2 to 3 years.

Perhaps most chilling of all was the threat assessment. It said that the risk of a global pandemic is high, evolving and unpredictable. The early warning systems were weak, prevention was possible but untested, and preparation was recommended as the best protection.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The fact is, we're still in the beginning stages of a global pandemic and I'm feeling a little bittersweet about the sudden uptick in attention that professional cleaning is getting. It is long overdue, but it's also going to be essential to manage expectations.

I don't know if you've noticed, but seemingly overnight, a lot of people suddenly became experts on cleaning. Don't get me wrong, in any other situation, I'd be enjoying the enthusiasm. However, it's becoming evident that cleaning managers are now going to be managing exceedingly lofty expectations. In many ways, this may very well be more dangerous than the actual cleaning of buildings.

Like you, I'm well aware of the ongoing trend over the past 10 years to lean out cleaning budgets. Of course, this comes with the expectation of delivering the same, or even improving, daily cleaning outcomes.

Generally speaking, most building occupants are in their spaces much longer than our cleaning teams. I know you've been disinfecting frequent touchpoints daily. I know that you've been diligently deep cleaning the buildings for the past two months. I know you've been keeping things clean, just as you always have. Make sure they know it, too. Make sure they understand that you're doing everything as you should. Let them know that they are stakeholders in the building's cleanliness — encourage them to help you. Maybe set up a table with a few bottles of disinfectants and cleaning cloths.

Ben Walker is COO at ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA's best-selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks. He can be reached at