Before submitting my 5 cents’ worth to this “National Dialogue on Preparedness,” I performed a content analysis: Among 150 posted ideas, an online word-search resulted in no hits – zero – for the following: agriculture, agricultural, farm, ranch, crops, cattle, and livestock. It didn’t surprise me, either. Many planners in homeland security (HS) and emergency response simply don’t think much, if at all, about agriculture. This is not a criticism; rather, it’s about demographics. The majority of Americans are born and raised in urban or suburban areas. Food simply appears on supermarkets’ shelves. Holstein cows, so loveable in their black and white, have achieved near-iconic status in national advertising and pop art (which I wouldn’t have believed possible 40 years ago, shoveling their manure on a dairy farm in Oklahoma).
The “agriculture and food sector,” as USDHS calls it, includes the processing, packaging, marketing, distribution, and wholesale and retail sales of agricultural products—but, it all starts down on the farm and the ranch. Even the most heavily urbanized states have local agricultural assets, whether family-owned or corporate. Agriculture is one of the most important of the critical infrastructures, yet emergency-response planning for natural disaster, man-caused disaster, and terrorism ( “agroterrorism”) generally is left to federal agencies (primarily USDA, FDA, CDC, and DHS) and states’ agricultural agencies. Local (read: county or parish and municipal) elected leaders and public-safety staffs are closest to these farms and ranches, but they probably do not have much of a role—and maybe, no role—in the ag-response plans of these primacy agencies. So, when federal and state responders and subject-matter experts are dealing with something really scary, like a possible outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD), they predictably might be reluctant to let anybody else into their incident command post. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Local-level planning for agroterrorism and other animal/agriculture disasters can be done and does not require a great deal of money. With the buy-in and input of federal and state primacy agencies, such plans can help ensure local governments’ subordinate cooperation and support in the multi-agency response to something like a suspected FMD outbreak in cattle and sheep or avian-flu outbreak in poultry. In fact, such plans already exist in the San Antonio, Texas, area. Since 2007, USDHS grant money has funded two locally written, operational plans: Animal-Agriculture Disaster Response Plan for Wilson County, Texas, and its derivative, (Template) Local Animal-Agriculture Disaster Response Plan for the Alamo-Area Counties. That totals 12 counties, out of 254, in the nation’s #2 state for farm and ranch produce. I was the project manager at the corporate consultant hired for both of these plans. Each was written with due diligence toward NIMS and ICS. A related article appears via this hyperlink: http://ipaperus.ipaperus.com/HomelandSecurityToday/October2009/ , then “Frontlines,” page 7.
The goal here is to plant a seed: If we can do local-level response planning down around San Antonio, then other HS planners in their jurisdictions across the United States can do it, too. The federal government (through USDHS) set that precedent.