Emergency management specialists ready to respond to farmers and ranchers in case of disaster | TheFencePost.com

Emergency management specialists ready to respond to farmers and ranchers in case of disaster

Daniel Frazen

The United States Department of Agriculture reports our country's agriculture sector is valued at $1 trillion, and it contributes to almost 10 percent of all employment nationwide. Agriculture is a critical infrastructure in the United States and it is vital to our nation's economy and security. In Weld County, Colorado, alone, there are over 3,000 farms and $1 billion in agricultural products are created there annually.

Colorado's emergency management professionals know these facts. They are committed to ensuring that this critical infrastructure is prepared and resilient. It is the responsibility of emergency managers to ensure that our region is able to respond and recover from all types of disasters that may directly affect our agricultural businesses and communities. With the deadly fires in California, the constant threat of terrorism/crime, and this year's severe winter weather forecast, farmers and ranchers need to prioritize disaster preparation and know what emergency management resources are available.

Disasters start and end local. You will find emergency management specialists working in the local municipalities and in your county's sheriff's office or office of emergency management. Typically, a city or town's emergency manager is located in the local fire department, fire protection district, or town police department. The state of Colorado has the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the federal government has the controversial Federal Emergency Management Agency. Each emergency management agency has a comprehensive emergency operations plan (EOP), and within each of these plans are annexes on how to deal with specific hazards or disasters. These hazards are typically identified in a community's Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment. In northern Colorado, the agricultural industry can be negatively affected by: (1) Severe Weather (2) Flooding (3) Fires (4) Animal Disease (5) Terrorism/Crime. The best EOP's encompass all phases of emergency management; preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation and prevention.

In addition to the government plans, farms, ranches and dairies should have their own emergency preparedness or business continuity plans. Local emergency managers, firefighters and law enforcement officers can assist with security and safety assessments to identify hazards and vulnerabilities. The annexes in your jurisdiction's EOP are public information. These sections of the EOP will detail resources available and possible operational procedures (to include checklists) for the different hazards or disasters that are prevalent. There are also special plans and templates for animal agriculture, to include the Colorado Veterinary Medical Foundation's Animal Emergency Response Planning Toolkit and the Colorado Department of Agriculture's species-specific disease response plans. Animal emergencies are complex incidents requiring specific control, services and sheltering. They may involve specialized teams, such as: a sheriff's office posse, a Community Animal Response Team (CART-Weld County), a Disaster Animal Response Team (DART-Larimer County), or foreign animal disease diagnosticians (FADDS) with CAD or the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. These incidents can also involve concerning words like: stop movement order, quarantine, agroterrorism and evacuation.

If an animal emergency or other large-scale disaster is beyond a municipality or county's capabilities, it can request assistance from the state of Colorado. Colorado DHSEM can arrange for the delivery of additional resources from outside the region. Local jurisdictions can also request, through a DHSEM process, the assistance of the Eastern Colorado Incident Management Team, a Type 3 disaster response team. The ECIMT is comprised of fire service personnel, law enforcement officers, and emergency managers from across Colorado; specifically from jurisdictions east of Interstate 25. These members of the ECIMT have all-hazards incident management training, and they are credentialed by the state of Colorado or the National Wildfire Coordinating Group in their various positions. The ECIMT provides incident command expertise, stabilization strategies, and it may lead recovery efforts so local governments can resume day-to-day operations in the wake of a natural or man-made disaster. The ECIMT works under a delegation of authority to manage the specific incidents.

The ECIMT has a strong partnership with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, and it has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the CAD to support the department in agricultural emergencies. ECIMT command and general staff members work closely with the State Veterinarian's Office, receive special agriculture and disease response training and participate annually in animal disaster exercises.

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When it comes to agriculture, emergency management and incident management professionals know that the true subject matter experts are the farmers, ranchers and producers. The CDA also recognizes this and has established the Colorado Rapid Response for Agriculture and Livestock emergency management system. The CDA actively recruits agriculture professionals and those working in veterinary medicine to be "All-Hazards Ag Liaisons." These liaisons provide local knowledge and skills to the CDA and ECIMT in all types of ag disasters. ❖

— Frazen is a veteran law enforcement officer and emergency management specialist in northern Colorado. He has a collateral assignment as a Public Information Officer and Liaison Officer trainee on the Eastern Colorado Incident Management Team. He can be contacted at fraze78@msn.com.