Agro-security program brought to Wyoming, identifies community needsWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – With constant threats facing agriculture and communities across Wyoming, UW Extension Educator Scott Cotton notes that it is important to be prepared for anything to happen.
“Historically, a lot of counties have strong emergency plans in other categories, but they only have two or three paragraphs for agriculture-related emergency planning,” Cotton explains. “About 12 years ago, a team of academics with disaster backgrounds from across the U.S. came together, supported by USDA, to look at about 400 county ag emergency plans.”
The plans were distilled to their basic elements, and a curriculum, titled, “Strengthening Community Agro-security Preparedness (SCAP),” was created to facilitate development of emergency plans in other counties across the U.S.
“Basically, we want to build the capacity to handle agriculture’s concerns and issues during disasters, to improve working relationships between stakeholders and emergency management and to establish or enhance the agro-security components within disaster drills and mechanisms,” Cotton adds.
He continues, “The goal is to go back to the county emergency planners to start developing or enhancing plans and move forward.”
The SCAP course is designed to help emergency managers work with producers to establish guidelines and framework for handling disasters.
“We go through and overview national guidelines for framework and look at where agriculture fits,” Cotton says. “Then we look at the ag risks in the county and assess our capability to respond.”
“We want to identify if weaknesses exist and what we can do about it,” he continues.
The role of Extension during the workshop is to facilitate discussions between those parties involved.
“Many emergency managers have a limited grip on the risks to agriculture, and they are greatly misinformed about what hits us hard,” Cotton comments. “Producers can share with emergency managers about the resources we have available, and in turn, producers get to tell emergency managers where problems exist.”
He adds, “This is a great communication tool. The end goal is a community agro-security planning committee made up of stakeholders, including agriculture.”
Cotton marks several success stories for improved emergency management, marking a case study from Chadron, Neb.
“In late July 2006, a wildfire burned 130,000 acres and came in on Chadron,” Cotton says. “It took 9.5 hours to organize animal evacuation. No one knew who was in charge, and leadership and other roles weren’t defined.”
Following the disaster, several hundred head of livestock were lost. An agro-security emergency preparedness effort was launched to prepare for the next big event.
“In 2012, Chadron had another fire of 228,000 acres,” he notes. “It took only 47 minutes to mobilize people. Knowing what role everyone has was the difference.”
The effort provided for movement of 5,500 cattle and 75 horses before fires encroached.
“Emergency planning really works, and it helps,” Cotton says.
During the Casper workshop, citizens from Carbon, Johnson and Natrona counties were present.
“We had representatives from Farm Bureau, the Wyoming Stock Growers, the Wyoming Livestock Board, local veterinarians, public health and Red Cross,” Cotton describes. “We put all of them together, and they started asking what each can offer.”
Johnson County Emergency Manager Marilyn Connolly says she attended the workshop to better incorporate the county’s agriculture producers into their emergency planning processes.
“Ag is a big part of our community that we’ve ignored in the emergency planning process,” Connolly explains. “It wasn’t on purpose that ag was left out, but we have always expected that the ag community will take care of themselves. They are very independent and often have their own plans.”
Connolly saw the workshop as an opportunity to develop a plan and relationships.
“We do have an agro-terrorism annex in our county plan, but I didn’t care for the way it was laid out,” she says. “I thought this was a good opportunity to get information to come back together and talk about what we can do to be prepared.”
In Johnson County, the process is currently in place to begin meeting with stakeholders to improve agro-security.
However, Connolly notes that the impacts of the program should continue to grow.
“I think we need to get more ag people involved,” she says. “It would be really neat to get more people involved from each region of the state.”
During the Casper workshop, Connolly comments that a large number of agency and government officials were present, but she hopes that producers get involved.
“I see value in having more people from the ag community come and meet with emergency managers,” Connolly comments.
Cotton and other members of the UW Extension Disaster Education Network hope to expand this course and others around the state, holding workshops in regions to allow two to three counties to attend each location.
“Putting emergency services and agriculture together helps both sides,” Cotton comments. “This is about resilience. If agriculture survives, communities stay stronger.”
Success across the U.S.
Since beginning of the Strengthening Community Agro-security Preparedness (SCAP) program, UW Extension Educator Scott Cotton notes that 318 counties across the U.S. have been reached, serving nearly 22 million producers in 34 states.
“Wyoming is one of the last two states to address agro-security preparedness,” Cotton notes, mentioning that the first SCAP workshop was held in the state on Sept. 24-25 in Casper.
The 43 workshops conducted across the U.S. up to 2013 have brought Extension educators, emergency managers, public health, animal control and first responders together with veterinarians, producers, commodity organizations, agribusiness and governments to address agriculture in emergency and disaster plans.