Are you prepared for disaster on your farm?

Portage County barn fire
Barn fire at the Thompson family farm in Portage County in 2017. (Submitted photo)

My imaginative 9-year-old can come up with a million different disaster scenarios that could strike at any minute, from killer poison ivy to dragons that throw angry kittens to rampaging rabbits that will eat you in your sleep. While I admit that there is a very slight chance that I will wake up in the night to a rabbit chewing on my leg, we know that it is extremely unlikely. 

That doesn’t stop me from asking my daughter all sorts of questions about how we will escape the rabbit apocalypse, what supplies will we need and what she thinks is the best way to stop rampaging rabbits. In addition to being a fun conversation, it also helps us develop our creative problem-solving skills. 

Unfortunately, there are far more realistic and scary disasters that can affect your farm or family. I was recently able to participate in a tabletop discussion with the Trumbull County Emergency Management Agency about a hypothetical radioactive exposure event. Local agencies discussed how they would coordinate a response to protect public health. I left the discussion a little terrified about the possibility of such an event, but I was very impressed with the level of preparation from the group. It was reassuring to know that in the event of such chaos there is a plan in place. 

After the meeting, I naturally began thinking about how we can better prepare our daily lives, including our farms and properties, for an unexpected incident. What if I use realistic disaster scenarios like a tornado or a barn fire in my disaster preparedness conversations with my daughter? 

Our family really should be having a farm EMA tabletop discussion on disaster response. It can be difficult and uncomfortable to plan for the unknown, but I know that having a plan would make me feel better and allow us a better response time in the moment. Some questions that have begun running through my head: 

Who will milk the cows if the person with primary responsibility dies?

Where can you rehome your animals if a fire destroys their barn?

How will you respond to animal rights activists on your farm? 

What is the procedure to stop a running implement if there is an accident? 

These examples are not hypothetical scenarios and occur every year on farms throughout the United States – Ohio included. Think about your own operation, and the scenario that is most likely to hit your farm. What are the immediate responses that need to occur within minutes or hours? What needs to happen within a couple of days? And what are the long-term plans to prevent the disaster from occurring at all, or a second time? 

Barn fires are all too common and start for numerous reasons. If your barn caught on fire, I imagine your immediate response would be to call 911 and then try to remove any livestock inside. These gut-level responses are good, but do you have a place for the cows to go, and do you need transportation? Do you have a place with temporary fencing? Once you start along this line of questioning, you may start to find some weak spots or holes in your plan. Starting to think now about how you would address these issues will help if or when disaster strikes. 

After the initial shock of a disaster many farms will rely on insurance to rebuild. If you haven’t had your insurance agent out to your farm, it might be a good time to invite them for a visit. Run your emergency response scenarios by them to make sure you have adequate coverage, especially if you have older equipment that can’t be repaired, or if you would be forced to upgrade to new, more expensive technology. 

While it’s highly unlikely the bunny apocalypse ever happens, I’m certain my daughter and I will make it out alive based on our conversations. However, if we had a hay fire, I’m not sure my wife and I would have a coordinated response in the moment, and that is something we need to talk about. Maybe I can make it more engaging if I suggest that a dragon starts the fire?


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!

Previous articleProposals received for Ohio hunting seasons
Next articleDon't forget what is under the snow
Lee Beers is an assistant professor and extension educator with Ohio State University Extension in Trumbull County. He can be reached at 330-638-6783 or



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.