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Management

Planning ahead can reduce impacts when disasters hit rural areas in Wyoming

Written by Natasha Wheeler

“We are used to taking care of ourselves,” comments Extension Educator Scott Cotton, referencing rural residents of Wyoming.

“We usually help our neighbors; we usually have more equipment than people in town, and we’ve also dealt with a lot of incidents, so we know how and what to do in emergency situations,” he adds.

Emergency management resources often take a long time to reach rural areas, so Cotton encourages residents to be prepared for disasters that might strike.

First of all, he recommends identifying which disasters are likely or possible, such as high winds, snowstorms, fires, floods, disease outbreaks or even crime.

“Then, we mitigate, which is a fancy word for reducing the chances of an impact,” he states. “We want to build resistance and decrease risk.”

To being with, gaps in protection and vulnerabilities – gaps that can’t be addressed, should be identified.

Accessible information

First aid kits and fire extinguishers should be in every home, according to Cotton, who also recommends that every person in the home, from the youngest to the oldest, be familiar with where those items can be found.

Teaching children how to call for help is also encouraged, and Cotton notes that it is important to make sure they know how to identify themselves as well as their location.

“If we dial 911 on a cell phone, the dispatcher does not automatically know where we are,” he warns. “We need to teach kids to tell people where we are and how to direct help to us. This should include where we are compared to the house, such as the field to the south by the irrigation ditch.”

Having a list of information on the refrigerator is a useful tool for family members or guests in case of an emergency.

“We should know what all the medical issues are, and it never hurts to know first aid and CPR,” adds Cotton.

Children should also be taught how to identify their family members in terms that emergency responders can understand to determine which people are in need of assistance.

Insurance measures

“We also need to have insurance coverage,” Cotton continues. “We often find that people insure their homes, vehicles and health but forget all about the barns, sheds, equipment in the sheds and livestock.”

Although insurance premiums can add up, a $360,000 combine damaged in a disaster is hard to replace without coverage.

Cotton also explains that many insurance companies have moratoriums on insurance policies, meaning coverage is not effective until a particular policy has been in place without changes for a given amount of time.

“We need smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. We also might want a generator that runs our wells and furnaces. We can live without lights, but no water is tough,” he says.

Emergency fuel, food and water supplies are also recommended, keeping in mind that a snowstorm or other disaster could block available exits for a number of days.

Livestock considerations

“We need to know where our livestock are and how to get to them with each type of incident,” Cotton adds.

For example, if a potential flood cuts off access to a particular pasture, perhaps an agreement with a neighbor could be established to check on stock. In some cases, haystacks may be dispersed to ensure access in the case of snowstorms or blown-in drifts.

“We want to have feed and water nearby, and we also want to know which way our animals move,” he mentions.

Cattle generally move downwind to seek shelter, whereas sheep and horses typically move into the wind.

“Know the best routes in and out, and know about neighbors’ stock, too,” he suggests.

In the case of potential snowstorms, Cotton recommends having the proper equipment to reach livestock and adds that pooling with neighbors can be helpful. As an example, he says producers may want to use one neighbor’s plow and another neighbor’s truck to get feed out to stranded animals, in addition to their own resources.

Floods and fires

“Which areas flood?” asks Cotton. “Stock will climb uphill from water. Know how to get around water, and know alternate routes around the county.”

Overland floods can also be a threat, as can debris that washes through with the water.

In the case of fire, Cotton recommends moving sideways to escape moving flames and warns that fires should not be approached from the front edge.

“We have more deaths every year from landowners fighting grassfires in the U.S. than we do in any other fire,” he states. “Most landowners aren’t trained in fighting fire, and they’ll attack it from the front, trying to keep it from spreading. A firefighter fights from the back, going in where it’s already burned.”

Fuel breaks and planting areas of short grass species that burn less easily are some suggestions for mitigating fire risk ahead of time.

Diseases and crime

Cotton also mentions that disease outbreaks can be devastating, and livestock owners should take precautions with new and neighboring animals.

New animals can be quarantined for observation, and typically any signs of illness will be visible within about three weeks.

“If we have a neighbor with trichomoniasis, we need to know it,” he remarks, adding that precautions should be taken if animals are being transported to disease risk areas such as rodeos or other events.

Mitigating against crime is also important as rural areas in Wyoming have seen recent increases in incidents. Precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of livestock theft, and care should be taken not to advertise to outsiders when no one is home.

“Sometimes we leave our gate open, so it looks like we’re there,” Cotton offers as an example.

He adds, “Stay in touch with the neighbors, and get to know local law enforcement.”

Being prepared for potential emergencies can save a business if disaster strikes. According to Cotton, 42 percent of rural residents go out of business when a landscape-scale disaster strikes.

“Let’s think ahead. How many of us are ready for our disasters, and what other areas can we cover as far as readiness?” he asks.

Scott Cotton spoke at WESTI Ag Days in Worland on Feb. 20.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..