It’s a fact of life — disaster can strike even the best managed farm, and in just the blink of an eye a tornado, flood or fire can cause life-changing damage or injury.

There’s little you can do to prevent some events such as a tornado or flood, but an emergency plan, along with preparedness training of all workers, can help reduce damage and even help save human and animal lives.

First off, think prevention. Planning, training and equipment maintenance are essential to preventing a disaster. Fact is, many disasters can be prevented, and a proactive

maintenance plan is a good start.

Preparing Documentation

For a plan to be effective, you must think through and develop it specifically to fit your operation and personnel. A well-designed and implemented emergency action plan can reduce the severity, the risk to humans and animals, the economic losses and the potential of environmental pollution, according to an Iowa State University Extension newsletter.

Another new option available to help you prepare for emergencies is the National Pork Board’s Emergency Action Plan program, introduced at this year’s World Pork Expo. The EAP will guide you through the planning and documenting of an emergency response plan. What’s more, it’s now required for PQA-Plus certification.


“Having a plan ready ensures that important decisions are not overlooked and that all resources are mobilized to achieve an effective solution,” says Liz Wagstrom, DVM, NPB’s assistant vice president for science and technology.

The program is Web-based and you are instructed to log in, describe your operation and consider various situations that can put your farm’s employees, animals or facilities at risk.

To start using NPB’s Emergency Action Plan, you will need to register as a user, or if you’re already registered, just sign in. Then enter basic information about your organization. Afterward, you will be guided through a series of questions relating to hazards specific to each of your production sites.

When completed, sit down with the appropriate emergency organizations such as fire departments, ambulance operators, police, your veterinarian and county health officials to share the information. “We foresee pork producers sharing printed versions of their plans with emergency responders so the rescue team knows what, who and where available resources can be found,” Wagstrom says.

Wayne Peugh, former NPB president, has experience with emergencies. “Last year we had a fire at one of our sites,” he says. “We got through it, but at the time I would have really appreciated having a document that listed all of the resources we could count on, all of the people we had to contact and all of the things we needed to do.The Emergency Action Plan fills that need.”

In keeping with fire prevention, be sure to check switches, electrical connections, wires, heaters, furnaces and motors as part of your operation’s routine maintenance. If you spot a fire risk take action immediately. Good housekeeping also is critical to fire prevention. Keep flammable materials in approved containers and enforce no-smoking policies in all your facilities.

Post the fire department and other emergency contact information near all telephones. The University of Nebraska provides additional tips for on-farm fire prevention.

It is important to develop an emergency plan for power outages and manure spills. Include names and contact information for people and organizations who should be notified in the event of a manure spill. The plan should contain an assessment of where an accidental discharge is likely to enter a water body and describe containment measures. Reporting a spill immediately when it happens and requesting assistance from the appropriate agencies is preferable to a possible lawsuit.

Schedule regular tests on emergency backup equipment; sign and date the maintenance

log when tests are completed. Insurance payments for any losses may depend on proper

equipment testing and recordkeeping.

Contact other producers in your area about the prospect of forming a group to help

each other respond if an emergency arises. Be sure that everyone living and working on the

farm is aware of the plan and knows where the documents are located. Performing periodic

exercises such as fire drills helps keep personnel aware of actions required when needed.

The Disease Threat

Of course, Mother Nature’s severe weather is not the only potential disaster to address. “U.S. agriculture is highly vulnerable to the introduction of foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease,” says James Roth,  director, Center for Food Security and Public Health, Iowa State University. “We’re also vulnerable to emerging or re-emerging diseases.”

Today’s high production efficiencies and high animal density areas lead to increased vulnerability. “If a disease gets in, many animals may become infected,” he notes. Virus mutation also increases the danger posed by disease.

“Viruses such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and circovirus can mutate and turn into something far more dangerous,” Roth says.

That’s why you need to include your veterinarian and make disease outbreaks part of your total emergency action plan. It will need to include steps for disposal of animal


“If we do have an outbreak of foreign animal disease, it is absolutely essential we have animal traceability to find the affected animals, quarantine them and halt the disease spread,” Roth says. “This is why the National Animal Identification System is so important in protecting agriculture.”

On a farm-specific basis, it will be important to immediately ramp up biosecurity programs to keep the disease out of your operation, Roth says. He points to the United Kingdom’s 2001 FMD outbreak that was quickly addressed but still cost the country $10 billion. “If the disease occurred in the United States, the cost would be dramatically higher,” he warns.

Preventing a foreign animal disease outbreak requires a unified effort of government, industry and producers. “The government has 450 specially trained diagnosticians to investigate suspicious cases,” according to Roth. However, state planning and training exercises and stringent biosecurity protocols at the farm level are critical to preventing a national emergency in the United States.

Type A H1N1: A New Threat

The recent human outbreak of Type A H1N1 influenza virus has added a new potential emergency threat to the pork industry. Although the virus has not yet been discovered in the U.S. swine herd, the industry must be prepared should that occur.

“Right now, it is essential to prevent transmission from people to pigs,” Roth stresses. “Many good biosecurity recommendations are available in the Biosecurity Guide

for Pork Producers.” (See the article in June Pork “Plan Now for Flu Season.”)

“There is no evidence that this H1N1 influenza virus is in the U.S. swine population,” says Juergen Richt, veterinary microbiologist, Kansas State University.

But if any producer discovers respiratory disease symptoms in his or her herd, it is important that he/she contacts a veterinarian without delay so that appropriate tests are done.

The reality of the situation is that if Type A H1N1 infection prompts concerns within the swine and human populations, swine movement could be halted or restricted. But regardless of the cause of the

emergency, any plan must include actions for what to do with growing animals and how to keep feed, water and staff flowing into the operation so that animal care and well-being are not compromised.

Prevention, equipment maintenance, training and practice drills are all part of reducing the likelihood of a disaster and minimizing the impact. Take the time now to develop and implement your own Emergency Action Plan, and avoid those sirens in the future.

HandlIng emerency anImal mortalities

Catastrophic floods, tornadoes, fires or disease can be not only financially challenging, they also can pose biosecurity risks. Any Emergency Action Plan must include strategies for animal mortality disposal.

Tom Glanville, department of agricultural and biosystems engineering, Iowa State University, provides the following suggestions about emergency mortality disposal.

  • Landfills may not always accept animal losses in an emergency. Many have strict rules, so if your emergency disposal plan relies on your local landfill, check ahead of time for its policies on accepting animal carcasses, including size and quantities, to avoid surprises later.
  • You may not always be able to bury animal mortalities on the farm. Burying carcasses in a concentrated area may cause pollution in shallow groundwater and nearby streams. Check with your state’s Department of Natural Resources for existing state or county regulations on animal burial. Also keep in mind that DNR may require groundwater monitoring after the burial.
  • The rendering plant, if you even have access to one, may have a limit on the number of animal mortalities even in an emergency. Adequate transportation or collection options also may be limiting factors. Find out the plant’s policies and capacity now.
  • If incineration is an option, again check with your state DNR for applicable air pollution regulations and other incineration requirements that may cover your location. You may need to contact an emergency service provider that has mobile equipment that complies with DNR regulations.
  • Composting can be used to rapidly cover and decompose carcasses during an emergency, if you have the space. If it is an option, you may need to stockpile straw or other material, or contract with a supplier who can supply it quickly.

    Best advice is to contact your regional DNR field office for guidance on local conditions and regulations governing disposal of animal mortalities.