Not just a plan, but a path forward

“Think about the things that keep you up at night,” said Rob Leeds, Ohio State University Extension educator. “Do you have a plan?”

That’s how Leeds, along with fellow OSU Extension Educator Eric Barrett, kicked off their presentation on farm emergency preparedness at this year’s NAFDMA Conference. Their talk focused specifically on not just making a plan for an agritourism venture, but what to do to keep that business going should an emergency situation arise. Agritourism attracts large crowds and you must be prepared for anything that can happen.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, emergency preparedness is “activities, tasks, programs and systems developed and implemented prior to an emergency that are used to support the prevention of, mitigation of, response to and recovery from emergencies.”

The first thing to consider is risk management. Perform a risk analysis and then determine what your actions would be. This is critical because this information is what insurance companies look at. Risks can be low frequency or high frequency, low severity or high severity. For example, something that is of low severity/high frequency may be yellow jacket stings. Something that is high severity/low frequency may be a tornado. If at all possible, you want to reduce, transfer or avoid situations that are high frequency/high severity.

Safety preparations, intended to reduce severity of emergencies, can include installing a fire control system, making rules for guests and workers to follow, eliminating potential injury items and having equipment back-ups. “It’s about protecting the farm long-term,” Leeds said.

After preparing as best you can, you need to create an emergency action plan (EAP). A plan is important because it protects you, your family, your employees and your property; it helps with litigation (and possibly insurance costs); it protects your brand and therefore your business viability; it shows your employees and partners the business is responsible and concerned about safety; and it is a key part of customer service – and peace of mind.

Barrett suggested creating highly visible flip charts – not bulky three-ring binders – to share your EAP. The plans must be in writing, kept in the workplace and available to all employees for review. There is a template available from OSU at u.osu.edu/agritourismready.

Your plan should start with emergency contact numbers for the following: the owner/operator, the fire department and/or sheriff’s office, gas/electric suppliers, the health department, your insurance provider, IT support, your equipment dealer and anyone else important to running your business. “Build relationships with the local fire, police and health department, your insurance agent, etc.,” Leeds said. “Don’t be afraid to contact those people and communicate what you’re doing.”

The EAP must also have accurate property maps with directions to buildings and fields (noting what they contain) and access points. Barrett said to make sure all the buildings and locations are named for clarity. This will also help you figure out how to get everyone off the farm quickly and safely if you ever need to.

Employee training is another very important part of your EAP. Bring your team together to help you create the plan, then follow the basic tenets of teaching: tell, show, do and review.

Planning can only get your so far, though. You should always be prepared in case localized and seasonal emergencies occur, such as sudden, severe thunderstorms, flash flooding and high winds. Designate a storm shelter on your farm – one that is structurally sound and not in danger of collapse during severe storms. It should provide protection from wind, blowing debris and lightning. For weather conditions, Leeds and Barrett recommended having at least two ways to stay informed (like the National Weather Service, NOAA or real time radar apps).

For injuries and medical emergencies, educate your employees as well as your visitors what to do. Employees should know the emergency protocols, emergency vehicles should be able access all parts of your farm that visitors can, emergency information should be readily available and always remember to fill out an incident report form – this may help protect you should any legal action occur down the road.

“Document as much as possible,” Barrett said. “Take lots of pictures.”

Planning ahead means thinking about everything on your farm. What will you do if there’s an equipment failure, such as a wheel seizing up or coming off a wagon? What if gates are left open and animals get out?

Also, what will you do if you lose power or utilities? Can you stay open? This is why cell phones are important, as are two-way radios. You need to consider if it is worth investing in generators to keep your business open should you lose power.

To prepare for these situations, install back-ups for critical services (electricity, computers, credit card machines, etc.) and use the appropriate resources for generators. Have back-up equipment plans (extra tires, tools, tractors and wagons, tents, etc.). If possible, prepare alternate activities for guests to reduce the financial risk of returning payments.

Finally, your EAP should have a recovery plan too. This means designating someone to be in charge of handling communications regarding the emergency with the public and the media. Every question about the incident will go to this person; do not deviate from your plan regarding this. If no one is comfortable on-farm doing this, consider hiring a professional public relations (PR) person.

A PR plan can be pre-planned based on possible emergency scenarios (such as injuries, accidents, fires or food-borne illnesses). It’s important to have a plan at this point because simply saying “No comment” means whoever is searching for a comment will find anyone willing to share one.

by Courtney Llewellyn

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