Emergency preparedness: The importance of having a plan for your operation

CEW-MR-2-Emergency preparedness 1by Steve Wagner

Dr. Greg Martin has had training in emergency preparedness, has taken FEMA classes, and periodically trains and updates himself on animal rescues. He imparted some of what he has experienced to a full room interested participants at the Penn-Ag 2014 Pork Expo and Poultry Progress Day at the Shady Maple complex in East Earl, PA.

Martin acknowledged that when we think of emergency preparedness it always seems to be related to natural disasters like floods and fires, high winds, overarching snows and other environmental threats. He told of the recent ice storm and how it affected trees in his yard which could easily have fallen under the weight of ice into his house, but didn’t — the close-to-home variety of disasters.

“If you talk to a dairyman, and he lost the front end loader on his farm, that is catastrophic,” says Martin. “He’s using that tractor every day, probably more than he uses his own automobile.”

Martin mentioned an incident in Lancaster County where a lightning strike on a broiler house blew the breaker box off the wall. Two things happened. The emergency generator came on, but where did the electricity go? Nowhere! “We had to compost two and a half tons of dead broilers in three or four days,” he recalled.

When an accident or natural disaster occurs on the farm, for the most part you are either on your own or reliant on local assistance. ‘I got hit with this calamity. Now, how do I get back into business as soon as I can for the least cost so that I can continue earning a living doing what I did prior to the calamity?’ paraphrased Martin. He added that people tend to think of this on three levels — planning, response, and recovery. This includes fixing what you have and reimbursement from various agencies, especially as it relates to declared disasters.

Martin says there is a guide online at Penn State that was developed by Dr. Dave Felson, with a committee of others from around the United States, called ReadyAg. This program helps you go through your farm to do a risk assessment. It allows you to see how well prepared you are for most of the typical disasters that might be expected.

“Pennsylvania is one of the most flood-prone areas in the United States,” Martin said. “We have high mountains, shallow rivers and snow. Where is the snow going to go? We’re going to have 40 degree weather soon, so we can look for water pretty quick. We need to be ready for that.”

Setting that against a backdrop of drought in the west, along with water shortages, power outages, feed outages, and disease as well, Martin touted the need for the ReadyAg book, a manual of assistance. This can be accessed at ReadyAg.psu.edu .

Martin says a lot of complaints come in after floods. ‘Is my food still okay to eat?’
“When in doubt, throw it out,” Martin says.

Martin asked attendees how many had fire extinguishers in their houses. How many had a fire extinguisher on each floor? How many folks had smoke detectors? How many had fresh batteries in those detectors? How many smoke detectors were over 10 years old?

If detectors are over 10 years old, get rid of them, he advised, because at that age, “sensors wear down.”

Martin asked how many attendees had an ICE number in their cell phones. ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. If you are in an accident and find yourself in the emergency room, and doctors are cutting off your clothes and going through your pockets, they will look at your phone. If you have an ICE number, it should identify the ICE person, usually a spouse. And they will notify that person.

Farmers who have water reservoirs might want to consider putting in what’s called a dry hydrant.

Basically, that is a siphon tube that goes into the lagoon and you can pump out water in an emergency.

“It’s icky,” says Martin, “but icky water can put out a fire just as effectively as well water. And you have a lot of water to work with. It’s stinky, but it works.”

Consult your local fire department and they will be able to give you some direction on this.

Also, a safety map for your farm might be a good idea. A safety design is basically a road map that allows firefighters and other first responders to come on to your farm and not get hurt. Responders need to know where the silage pit is or the location of the silo, lagoon locations, and they even need to know where the angry dairy bull is. Responders should also know where fertilizers and pesticides are; they are hazardous materials that need to be handled effectively. It might prove wise to have those items elsewhere other than in the barn.

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