Preparing for the Unexpected: It Can Happen to You

2/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

EAST EARL, Pa. — Winston Churchill famously said, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

For farmers, the same could be said about planning for the unexpected — and it is not just the big failures such as hurricanes or tornadoes farmers need to think about — it’s the barn fires, snowstorms and floods.

Derek Ruhl of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Gregory Martin, Penn State Extension poultry specialist, talked about planning for disasters Tuesday at this year’s Poultry Progress Days/Keystone Pork Expo at Shady Maple Restaurant.

Ruhl said 90 percent of the time that a state of emergency is declared, it’s for a snowstorm or flood.

“Pennsylvania is the most flood-prone state,” he said.

Pennsylvania has more 100-year floodplains than any other state. And Ruhl’s job is to work as the agriculture department’s liaison to make sure agricultural disasters can be averted.

Martin works on the Lancaster County emergency response team, and when his team is activated, he helps with local issues.

Both talked about the double whammy Pennsylvania received in February 2010 when two snowstorms hit the state back to back, paralyzing it with more than 2 feet of snow.

Ruhl worked with PennDOT to get an extension in allowable hours for milk truck drivers and other agricultural commodities, knowing that keeping milk moving off the farm and feed flowing to the farm was essential.

Both Martin and Ruhl had to step in to work to coordinate efforts to plow out roads to snowbound farms.

Martin said his phone rang and a township official wanted to know how critical it was to get farms plowed out. After Martin explained the dollar value of the milk, the limited storage on farm and the headaches that would ensue if milk had to be dumped, the township jumped into action, getting an extra plow to navigate a milk truck to these at-risk farms.

Both provided a couple of take-away points farmers should have, so they know how to respond to a catastrophic event.

When asking for assistance, Ruhl said, details help. For example, if a poultry barn is running out of feed, how many chickens are at risk and other related information. That helps him to better explain the seriousness of the situation.

Barn fires are one of the most common situations for Ruhl, who on average has about three calls a week come to his office.

Obviously, in case of a fire, call 911. Then after the blaze, the first thing that has to be addressed is alternative housing and care for any surviving animals, which can be through the help of a neighboring farm or with the assistance of the county animal response team, or CART.

Ruhl’s office is also contacted to verify if additional assistance is needed. And if animal burial is needed, his office works with the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a plan.

Martin said farmers should have an emergency response plan prepared — including a map indicating where chemicals, pesticides, fuels and other dangerous substances are stored.

Information is power and can help firefighters combat the blaze. Extension has an emergency form called Ready Ag that can help farmers organize information.

Talking with poultry and pork producers, Ruhl discussed another emergency, a localized disease outbreak. He said on average the department’s bureau of animal health receives about 30 calls a year regarding potential avian flu cases.

The farm will be placed under quarantine and the bureau will come out to test the flock to see if it has a positive case or not. Based on test results, the department will decide what action is necessary, including screening nearby farms, depopulation of a positive flock and traceability surveys to see where the disease came form.

Martin said emergency plans should include a recovery element for when the dust settles after an emergency. It’s easier to take the time to plan ahead, he said, instead of scrambling after the fact.

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