“I have a team of about eight people on stand-by at the PA Emergency Management Agency, 24/7, during state-of-emergency types of events, but we’re also on call everyday for any incident regarding agriculture and food supply.” The man speaking those words is Derek Ruhl, Coordinator of Emergency Preparedness and Safety for the PA Department of Agriculture “When our team of eight goes into PEMA, we go into it with the mind-set that we want to keep the three-to-five-day supply of food going,” Ruhl continued.
There are four phases of Emergency Management. They are Mitigation, those physical actions that will prevent emergencies or minimize their effects; Preparedness, the act of planning to handle an emergency before it occurs; Response, actions taken to save lives and prevent further damage and/or further loss of lives; and Recovery, which is restoring normalcy after the emergency (usually the biggest impact and lengthiest phase). Currently, Ruhl said, “we are constantly in the Preparedness mode for High Path Avian Influenza.” They have been in Preparedness mode since February or March of this year. The philosophy behind this reasoning is that the more prepared one is, the faster the situation is likely to be resolved. Jennifer Reed-Harry from Penn-Ag Industries is also in attendance, and said there is good news and bad news about HPAI. “The good news,” she said, “is that it has not reached Pennsylvania yet. The bad news is that we have to remain vigilant (prepared) until it does. Theoretically, that could be to eternity.”
Converting what Ruhl says into formulae is what Ruhl himself lumps under the umbrella of Emergency Management Thinking. The triple equation is…
- Early detection + rapid response = quicker recovery
- Threat = Intent + Capability
- Risk = Threat + Vulnerability + Consequence
Ruhl also touts an acronym called COOP or Continuity of Operations Plan. “Every private firm, every state agency, every organization,” he says, should have such a plan. “A dairy farmer’s COOP plan could be ‘how do I move my herd to higher ground during a flood?’ There was a Bradford County dairy farmer whose property never flooded in 40 years, until tropical storm Lee. When he came out at 4 o’clock in the morning, water on the farm was up to the udders. He had no plan as to how he was going to move his 400 some dairy cows to safety. In that situation, he had to figure it out ad hoc.”
In the winter of 2010 in south central PA, there were back-to-back snowfalls with snow measuring three to four feet. It was this state of affairs that inspired Chris Herr, Executive Vice President of Penn-Ag Industries to phone the state Ag Department to request that snow be plowed from Halifax in Dauphin County to Mt. Joy in Lancaster County to accommodate emergency feed deliveries for chickens who, within the next two days, would starve without them. Ruhl took the request to PennDOT and the State Police, both agencies of which, at that time, were trying to coordinate snowmobile rescues of people. “I told Chris that we were competing with human rescue,” Ruhl remembers. Out of that challenge was created the Request for Assistance form. Not being created to add to the legendary burden of bureaucratic red tape, but instead to illustrate the urgency of the request, the form was used for the first time in this instance. “There’s been an evolution since then,” Ruhl explains. “The State Police and PennDOT now understand us, and they work to cooperate with us.”
Ruhl answered one attendee’s question by noting that, “when we have an extraordinary response, it is defined as an event that exceeds our capabilities, or requires extensive inter-agency coordination, or extensive inter-bureau coordination. Maybe we have a massive beef recall that makes it no longer a Monday through Friday week; that’s when we kick in the Incident Command structure. Incident Command Principles are delineated thusly:
- Routine response vs. Extraordinary response
- In instances when an extraordinary response and many resources are required, it is necessary to establish an Incident Command Structure to manage the event and its resources.
- This allows for Span of Control of manpower and resources.
- Span and Control refers to the number of subordinates a supervisor has (3 to 7 is the optimum)
- Who’s in charge? In Incident Command, who is in charge is determined by which entity has the statutory authority to respond.
- For HPAI, it is PDA and USDA, and any other agency using their authority to respond.
“If you have a multi agency event between county, state government, and the feds,” says Ruhl, “there is always a contest about who’s in charge. Incident Command defines who’s in charge. This kind of structure was used in the Gulf Oil spill when the Coast Guard was in charge. Imagine the resources and the agencies involved in that.”
For more information visit PSU’s Ready Ag website at http://extention.psu.edu/preparedness/readyag