Time to Take Action

January 7, 2014 06:27 PM

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 http://ReadyAg.psu.edu 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.

Chemicals need attention and inspection to ensure there are no leaks and to plan for any future accidents.

Safety training should be completed for all equipment, as well as activities to help prevent employee injuries. All staff should be coached on who to contact in case of an emergency.

Outside, post a phone number at the farm entrance for passersby who see something unusual, such as smoke coming from a building or livestock in the middle of the road.

The important message behind these programs is to take action now, before it’s too late. "ReadyAg is about preparedness," Filson says. "It’s not a response document. It needs to be completed before a disaster occurs." 

Ochterski agrees. "In New York, last year’s flooding brought these issues to the forefront, but I’d rather farmers paid attention to disaster preparedness without having a close call," he says. 

Discover more information about disaster planning and resources to help you prepare at http://eden.lsu.edu.

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