It’s been more than three years since Sept. 11, 2001. And each day, our focus on that horrendous tragedy blurs.
Unless we suffered a direct loss or now have a loved one serving overseas, most of us go through our daily routines uninterrupted by a thought of the terrorist invasion.
Put to test. Last week’s agriterrorism drill by the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and the Ohio Department of Agriculture brought the disaster back to the forefront.
There are many fronts in the war on terrorism. Our nation’s heartland is not immune, as the threat of agriterrorism is real.
What if someone intentionally introduced foot-and-mouth disease into the U.S. livestock herd? The virus could spread on contaminated vehicles, by people wearing contaminated clothes, through contaminated feed or manure. And, officials admit hesitantly, it wouldn’t be that hard to infect a herd.
What happens in the first few days are critical.
In the interest of disclosure, I participated in the drill, playing the role of the media along with three other journalists and six public information officers from state offices or agricultural organizations.
Not a game. I have to admit it was fun, although all the players tool their roles seriously. Disaster preparedness is too important to brush off as just a game.
And because we media weren’t central to the emergency response, I didn’t see a lot of the decision-making process. Every step of the way, response is a series of “if this happens, then this needs to happen” scenarios.
Is it just a local emergency, or does the state need to get involved? If it’s a state emergency, do we have the resources to address the situation or do we need federal help? How big is the quarantine and who has jurisdiction over the movement of people in the restricted area? How do the key players communicate with each other? With the state patrol? With the National Guard?
There was a plan in place, and it worked. Glitches will get smoothed, rough spots revised – but that’s the sole purpose for such an exercise.
Of course, any good emergency plan starts with mitigation and preparedness. Do what you can to avoid an emergency situation in the first place, but be prepared in the event that one occurs.
On your farm. That’s were farmers and veterinarians serve as foot soldiers.
Practice biosecurity on your farm. Keep unauthorized visitors out of livestock barns and keep those lovely plastic disposable boots handy for occasional visitors entering your barn.
Know your animals. Keep an eye on them. Check them daily. Know what symptoms of infectious diseases look like. Lock your anhydrous ammonia tanks.
Vigilance is a key.
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge was in Ohio two days after the agriterrorism drill, speaking to the Ohio Conference on Law Enforcement.
“Americans do not live in fear,” he reminded us. “We live in freedom.”
And that freedom is worth fighting for on all fronts, including the farm.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)