When Disaster Strikes

February 26, 2014 10:32 AM
When Disaster  Strikes

Your first steps in case of an emergency

By Melissa Shipman (TopProducer@farmjournal.com)

Preparing for disasters before they happen is the first step in protecting your farm in a crisis. But emergencies still happen, and when they do, knowing how to take action can be the difference between devastation and recovery. More importantly, it can mean the difference between life and death.

"Once a disaster occurs, you’re reacting to things as they happen," says Fred Whitford, Purdue Pesticide Program coordinator. "You’re no longer in control. A reaction plan gives you some control back."

Safety. In a crisis, safety is the first concern. All family members and employees should know to immediately report to a pre-designated meeting location. For safety, it’s critical for everyone to remain there until responders say it’s safe to return.

"Too often firefighters and other responders die or are put into harm’s way while unnecessarily searching for missing individuals inside burning or flooded buildings, all because that person wasn’t at the meeting spot or had not reported in," says Steve Cain, Purdue Extension disaster communication specialist.

Depending on the disaster, you might need to consult local health authorities about necessary treatment.

Communicate. After the initial danger has passed, it’s time to begin recovery. Large operations should assign one employee to handle all communication; one of the first calls should be to the insurance agent.

John Adams, an agent with Indiana Farm Bureau, stresses the importance of working with your agent to prevent additional damage. If wind damages a building roof and no steps are taken to secure the property, any future rain damage could fall into a separate claim.

"There’s a process called ‘duties after loss,’ and farmers are responsible for protecting their property as much as possible," Adams explains. Farmers also need to provide thorough documentation on damaged property. Adams recommends working with insurance agents, suppliers and equipment dealerships to help fill any gaps in your records.

Too often, farmers don’t fully understand their policies, causing surprising gaps in coverage. Misunderstandings can occur during hurried calls with agents or when too many employees are involved.

To avoid this, Cain suggests relying on your designated point person and documenting all communications in writing. "Don’t take anything verbally," Cain says. "Make sure you really know that policy before you need to file a claim."

Media Response. When media arrive, and they will, Whitford advises farmers to remember these individuals are simply doing their job. Instead of avoiding public comment, the farm’s owner—not an employee—should talk to the media about the situation and calmly communicate the facts.

It’s best to create a statement in advance to better prepare for possible questions. Be honest and direct in acknowledging the situation and how you’re handling the problem. "The worst thing you can say is ‘no comment,’" Whitford says.

Cain suggests commenting on the personal aspect. "Remind them that this is more than a financial loss for you," he says. "It’s your life, your home and your animals."

In all of this, keep safety and health at the forefront. Disasters take a toll on all involved. Be mindful if family members or employees don’t seem to be handling the stress, and encourage them to seek help.

For more tips on how to successfully handle a farm disaster, visit www.TopProducer-Online.com/Handle_A_Disaster.

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