Contributed by Chris Brunner
The recent flooding in Nebraska was a moment for quick response by Tracey Stevens, an instructor and trainer with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS) at UC Davis. Stevens has logged hundreds of hours teaching first responders, local emergency management agencies, state veterinary medical officers, law enforcement, and animal control officers about the impact of an all hazards event to the economy of livestock and poultry in their region. She teaches nationwide and resides in the heartland of Nebraska.
Stevens provides first responders, industry and animal owners with the background information and tools needed to develop disaster response plans. A key message of the WIFSS All Hazards Preparedness Training courses is to establish relationships between stakeholders to work together strategically for effective response to a natural or human-made disaster in their rural communities.
During times of trouble rural communities gather together to support each other and this was a time of trouble. When Stevens got the call from a friend that Willow Valley Farms in Gretna was in trouble she let him know she was ready to assist at any capacity. The farm, home to San Clemente Island Goats, was devastated from the flooding waters. They were able to save all but one of their 230 goats. However, 30 male goats were stranded in livestock trailers in need of safe harbor. Stevens contacted local community members to determine temporary housing options for the homeless goats.
Local farmers and community members rallied to donate safety fencing, fresh water and food for receiving these exhausted, stressed goats. The 30 goats have been placed in safe keeping at Sabatka Farms and other locations in Stevens’ hometown of Weston, NB, and are being taken care of by a team that includes her and her husband, and neighbors.
Long affiliated with UC Davis WIFSS and the School of Veterinary Medicine, when Stevens heard of the overwhelming conditions being faced by the owners of Willow Farms she thought of Dr. Joan Dean Rowe, a professor in the Department of Population Health and Reproduction at the School of Veterinary Medicine, who is an expert in housing and transportation concerns of livestock. As a goat owner herself, Rowe immediately identified with the distress of the owners of Willow Valley Farms. She was soon in contact with John Carroll and Chad Wegener and together they talked about a potential course of action for the care of the distressed goats. San Clemente Island goats are listed as a critically endangered heritage breed.
Natural disasters are happening in locations never thought of before. Stevens points out that through the coordinated efforts in Nebraska communities they have shown the true meaning of the heartland farmers and ranchers and their support for animal welfare.
In the emergency preparedness world, we talk about planning using an all hazards approach. This simply means communities should plan for any hazard that is probable in that region, and could cause injury, property damage, business disruption, environmental impact, or cause harm to animal or human health. This requires taking a holistic view of the community, surrounding regions, and all people and animals in the vicinity. Likely hazards are identified, and then plans are put in place to mitigate the risk of harm that could be caused by the potential hazards.
The all hazards training courses sponsored by WIFSS are led by experienced instructors familiar with the nuances of rural community infrastructures. On board is Tracey Stevens, a Nebraska rancher, Dr. Michael Payne, WIFSS Dairy Outreach Coordinator, an extension veterinarian, and volunteer firefighter, and Mr. David Goldenberg, an agroterrorism subject matter specialist.
An all hazards approach is similar to a One Health approach because it requires the cooperation and team work of many different agencies in a community and the sharing of expertise and resources to ensure that in the event of a disaster, the best possible outcome is achieved, meaning as little damage as possible and a quick recovery.
WIFSS is a founding member of the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium (RDPC), a federally-funded organization that was established in 2005 to provide rural and tribal communities with the knowledge and skills needed to enhance the safety, security, and quality of life for their citizens.
To date, the consortium has trained over 97,000 people in rural areas on many topics related to safety and protection. We are proud to be contributing to this effort. The training courses that we have developed, and now deliver for RDPC are certified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and align with the U.S. National Preparedness Goal.
The first course, AWR 328: All-Hazards Preparedness for Animals in Disasters was developed because of the need for specific training on how to incorporate specific plans for animals and food systems into a community’s disaster response plans. For rural communities this is particularly important because the food system exists in the rural areas of our country and represents a significant economic and public health risk if they are impacted by either unintentional, or intentional, disasters
The second course MGT 448: All-Hazards Planning for Animal, Agricultural, and Food Related Disasters, builds upon the information that was presented in AWR 328. The purpose of these courses is to bring together emergency managers from rural communities and give them an opportunity to start the planning process to develop animal, agricultural, and food related disaster response plans that will fit into the emergency operation plan that already exists in their communities.
Preparedness is the ultimate goal of any emergency planning effort in all of our communities. It is our goal to protect our most valuable resources, and that includes our agricultural and food systems.
Hours logged instructing first responders has confirmed for Stevens the practical application of implementing emergency preparedness training. Her standard classroom opening remark now takes on a deeply personal meaning, “Mother Nature never sleeps.”