After a catastrophic hurricane season, the agriculture community has been forced to revisit an unpleasant question: What if a crisis were to happen on my farm operation?
Few situations make you feel as helpless as being at the mercy of a powerful natural disaster. But there are steps you can take to mitigate losses if the worst occurs.
First, assess the most pressing risks for your operation based on where your farm is located and be aware of local resources and experts who can advise you, says Joe Hawbaker, a farm attorney and risk-management expert based in Omaha, Neb.
“At the very least, know where to go to find information,” Hawbaker says. “Local FSA offices are the best source of information.”
Next, develop an emergency plan to protect your team and limit risk.
“The foundation is preparation,” says Jane Dukes, director of food and consumer communications at MorganMyers, a strategic communications firm specializing in crisis management. “Take the surprise element out of what could happen by anticipating it in advance and putting a plan in place to deal with it if and when it does. A simple risk-ranking exercise to evaluate potential crises and emergencies on your farm—the likelihood they will happen and the impact to your farm or business if they do—is a good place to start.”
Critical Elements. Key components to include in an effective crisis plan include a core response team specifically assigned to make critical decisions. Maintain a list of key emergency contacts and define how you will secure the property in an emergency. It’s also smart to identify and train a spokesperson with your key messages to relay to the media, Dukes advises.
The safety of people in and around your operation should remain a priority in every hazardous situation. Train employees on emergency protocols and best practices to ensure everyone knows what is expected of them in a crisis. When a disaster occurs, start by gathering the right people to stay on the same page.
“Bring your response team together to assess the situation and understand the facts, assign responsibilities and work through strategies for handling the crisis,” Dukes says. “A quick response is paramount as is ensuring a constant flow of information to affected audiences.”
Action Items. There are a few simple but strategic steps farmers can put into place when a worst-case scenario happens, Dukes says.
Be quick and proactive to get your message out as soon as possible after the crisis occurs. Share pertinent and timely information to your key audiences, and give members of the media the insights they need to get the word out to the community.
Finally, be open and transparent. Let people who have been touched by the crisis know what you are doing to control the situation and to keep people and animals safe.
It’s impossible to plan for every single contingency before a crisis takes place. But by preparing for disasters in times of calm, you can limit damage to your people, assets or reputation, which will ensure the process of rebuilding can begin.