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Our Expert Voices conversation on pandemics.

When it comes to infectious disease outbreaks, the difference between a mild localized illness or a deadly worldwide plague may rest on the single protein of a microbe. And yet the U.S. is woefully unprepared for the next pandemic. We score only a 6.7 out of 10 on an independent assessment of our national preparedness.

Our nation's health security efforts are deeply fractured. Nobody has responsibility to design and implement a comprehensive national strategy, demand collaboration, align and scale agency-specific budgets to measurable outcomes, nor the authority to hold agencies accountable. Improving preparedness is not exclusively about increased resources. With the right leadership, existing resources could be better applied if redistributed in support of a national strategy.

The need to appoint an Ebola Czar during the response to 3 cases of Ebola in the U.S. was not an accident. It simply exposed the underlying lack of a senior national leader to provide oversight of our health security enterprise from prevention through response to recovery.

Bottom line: It's time for the White House to treat the threat of a global pandemic — which could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and fundamentally disrupt our society — with the same respect as a foreign invasion, though microbe sized.

Other voices in the conversation:

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.