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Time to Take Action

January 8, 2014

Prepare for emergencies

By Melissa Shipman


This Indiana farmer was left to clean up the rubble after a hog building caught fire in March of 2012.

When disasters strike your farm, it’s difficult to pick up the pieces and begin again. Operations with a disaster preparedness plan in place prior to an emergency are more likely to recover, but setting up these plans can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are resources that can help. David Filson, retired Penn State Extension Emergency Preparedness & Response coordinator, helped develop the ReadyAg program, which asks, "If a disaster hit your farm or ranch today, would you still be in business next month?"

In developing the program, Filson worked with a variety of commodity groups. Farmers across the country can log onto to complete the online workbook of yes-or-no questions. In less than an hour, farmers receive a customized checklist for disaster preparedness.

The program identifies vulnerable areas, prioritizes needs and creates a unique action plan. The program itself isn’t enough. "It won’t do any good until a farmer picks it up and starts to use it," Filson says. "You have to take action."

Jim Ochterski, Cornell Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources program leader in Ontario County, N.Y., created a class to help farmers prepare for emergencies. In 2011, he and colleague Jackson Wright created the Farm Disaster Preparation certificate program.

Farmers can complete the class in exchange for an insurance discount, often 10% for three years.

"Almost 400 farmers have parti­­ci­pated in the class, from small part-time operations to large dairy

producers with a significantly higher level of investment," Ochterski says.

The program consists of a six-hour class that covers five units of disaster education, including vehicle safety and livestock best practices to tips about "disaster proofing" a farm.

Stacy Gilson, a beef producer in Wayland, N.Y., completed the class in August and got a new perspective. "Every farm is different, and some farms have already started implementing things like this, but I created a list based on our operation and prioritized the order of what we have in place and what we need to do next," she explains.

Even without formal training or organized checklists, you can create a plan for any operation. Fred Whitford, Purdue Pesticide Program coordinator, suggests thinking first about fire. "Having a map and a plan ensures firefighters will be able to respond quickly and safely," he says.

Take Action. Maps should include fuel tanks, prearranged meeting locations, access routes, electrical shutoffs, livestock areas and contact information. If time and resources allow, some fire departments will tour large operations to familiarize themselves with the layout in case an emergency occurs.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - January 2014

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