When the Blizzard of ’78 hit the Northeast, it caught the region by surprise. Some meteorologists had predicted only a minor snowstorm, and forecasts were still unreliable enough that many people simply went about their regular business. When the hurricane-force storm hit, traffic came to a complete standstill due to the fast-accumulating snow – even the plows were stuck — and thousands of cars were abandoned. Not all the stranded people would survive. It took over a week – and help from the National Guard – to clear the roads again.

Today, even as weather events have become more extreme due to climate change, we’re in many ways more prepared for them: scientists’ forecasting techniques have gotten better, and governors and mayors have standard practices for handling preparation and cleanup for all but the most severe events (think Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy). The private sector has also played an important role: today if there’s a blizzard, tornado, or flash flood in your area, your smartphone will notify you so that you can shelter in place until the risk has passed.

While advances in tracking weather-related risks have improved public safety and resilience, we have made far less progress on enhancing global resilience to biological risks and pandemic threats. As the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense highlighted, U.S. levels of readiness and global coordination are woefully inadequate. And the U.S. is not alone in this; it’s is a global problem.

Over the last few decades, the world has had several near-misses on a true global pandemic, from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to various strains of avian influenza to, most recently, the rapid spread of Zika. We’re also facing a new and perilous generation of drug-resistant pathogens. What these near misses tell us, quite simply, is that we are not ready for a global pandemic. Fixing this should be one of the top public health priorities today for leaders in science, government, and private industry.

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