LUCAS, Ohio – “Plum Island has confirmed a presumptive positive for foot-and-mouth disease,” came the chilling announcement at Malabar Farm State Park Oct. 13.
The words came amid a flurry of activity so realistic it was easy to forget it was just a drill.
The scenario. The flashing lights of a state highway patrol car parked at the gateway to the farm signaled something was wrong.
An Ohio Emergency Management Agency mobile station, with its tall communication antennas, held court behind the Sustainable Agriculture Library. In the lower level of one of the farm’s bank barns, officials pored over a township map.
“The one-mile quarantine has been expanded to a six-mile radius,” someone reported.
The governor declared a state of emergency and, with that, Ohio’s borders were closed to incoming livestock.
And atop Mount Jeez, the highest point on author Louis Bromfield’s showcase farm, state agriculture officials were killing 60 head of the farm’s cattle, victims of foot-and-mouth disease. The farm’s sheep and swine herds were also slated to be euthanized.
Just a test. No one wants to think of the possibility, but organizers said planning is the only way to be prepared for a potential terrorist incident involving a dangerously contagious animal disease.
“You just can’t be too prepared,” said Ohio Director of Agriculture Fred Dailey following the exercise that involved 20 local, state and federal agencies and about 100 people.
“It would be easy for a terrorist to bring a virus like this in,” he added.
The ODA is the state’s lead agency for response and recovery from a contagious animal disease threat.
Ohio received a $10,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to run the drill, only the third such agri-terrorism field drill conducted nationally, according to Rob Glenn of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
Major disruption. The outbreak scenario required quarantines, highway closings, elapsed time waiting for federal lab results, then herd euthanization and carcass disposal efforts.
According to the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, there are a number of agents and toxins that pose a severe threat to animal health – and they’re in the hands of would-be terrorists.
A disease like foot-and-mouth intentionally introduced to the U.S. livestock herd would cause major economical and sociological disruption in the United States and abroad, the institute cautions.
The 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic in the United Kingdom cost that government approximately $4 billion to contain and eradicate. More than 6 million animals were killed.
Behind the scenes. During the drill, a joint command center coordinated the players. Who has the legal authority to do what? Who has the equipment? How and when is information shared with residents? Who deals with the media?
Law enforcement officials practiced making traffic stops at key intersections to update drivers entering the now-restricted area. The FAA restricted airspace over the quarantined area to reduce airborne transmission of the virus.
A 100-page scenario listed possible outcomes depending on variable triggers, but even key players like Dailey and state veterinarian Dr. David Glauer were kept in the dark prior to the drill, to make actions as realistic as possible.
During the exercise, the severity of the disease, the numbers of animals involved, the need to quarantine farms and halt traffic unfolded quickly.
Dailey called the scene “organized confusion,” but said the sequence of events is part of a master plan, the Animal Disease Incident Annex to the State Emergency Operations Plan.
“I think we’ll be able to refine our plan as a result of this exercise,” he added.
Drills like this also forge stronger interagency cooperation, including the Ohio National Guard, in the event of a real emergency.
“I now know more about agriculture than I did three months ago,” admitted Ohio Emergency Management Agency communication chief Rob Glenn.
“The more times we can work together during training and exercises, the better Ohio’s response will be during an actual event,” added Dale Shipley, executive director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell participated in the drill, “playing” a member of the media.)
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!