It’s a fact of life — disaster can strike anywhere at any time. In the blink of an eye, a tornado, flood or fire can cause life-changing damage or injury and turn even the best-managed farm into chaos.
There’s little you can do to prevent some events such as a tornado or flood, but having an emergency plan, along with preparedness training of employees, can help reduce damage and even help save lives.
A disaster plan helps reveal potential problems that could cause costly delays when reacting to an on-farm emergency. “Every farm should have a disaster plan to protect assets from natural disasters and other emergencies,” says Mary Lou Peter, communication specialist, Kansas State University.
Disaster planning starts with identifying on-farm risks and reviewing past emergencies. In many states, the most common natural disasters are floods, straight-line winds, fires and winter storms.
While there is no stopping Mother Nature, you can prevent certain disasters from happening with proactive safety and maintenance programs. For example, many equipment and facility fires can be prevented by conscientious employees who are alert to warning signs such as faulty electric switches or wiring.
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 strict no-smoking policies in all your facilities.
Invite emergency response personnel to visit farm properties and participate in determining major risks. It might help firefighters or other first responders understand how to respond to an emergency at a specific farm. Farmers, like other business owners, should back up computers and use off-site storage for electronic and hard copy records that are irreplaceable and easily protected.
Once in place, disaster plans should be reviewed at least once a year. The review need not be an elaborate exercise. Review details on who is going to execute certain tasks. If disaster strikes, everyone will know who will perform each task eliminating wasted time and effort when seconds count.
The hardest part about creating a disaster plan can be taking the time to develop it. Make it a shared responsibility of key employees who might be relied upon to take control if owners or managers are not present when a disaster strikes.
All plans must include information to contact and assist emergency responders should a disaster occur. Having a plan ready ensures that important decisions are not overlooked and that all resources are mobilized to achieve an effective response.
Your farm may present unique challenges in an emergency situation. Ensuring that public safety officials and emergency response planners are aware of your farm’s specific location will serve to reduce the impact of an emergency on you and your property. If road construction or other disruptions occur that will alter the preferred route of emergency responders, they must be informed of the change.
When completed, sit down with the appropriate emergency organizations such as fire departments, ambulance operators, police and others such as county health officials to share the information. Share printed versions of your plan with employees, emergency responders so the rescue team knows what, who and where available resources can be found.
Make sure key emergency numbers are posted in strategic places and that key employees have the numbers stored in their cellular phones.
Flooding is predicted this spring in several areas of the country. “Plan Today for Tomorrow's Flood” is a flood response plan which farmers can use. “Rural Security Planning” is designed to protect family, friends and farms in the event of an emergency. Both publications are available for free download from Purdue Extension at https://mdc.itap.purdue.edu/.
Every farm household should have a supply of drinking water, canned goods, flashlights, spare batteries, a radio and a first aid kit. A back-up generator could also be added to the list. More information for farmers and others about emergency preparedness and disaster recovery is available at http://www.extension.org/disasters.
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.
Periodic exercises such as fire drills helps keep personnel aware of actions required when needed. Contact other farmers in your area about the prospect of forming a group to help each other respond if an emergency arises.
Severe weather, fires and flooding are not the only potential disasters to address. U.S. agriculture is also vulnerable to the introduction of foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.
Today’s high production efficiencies and high animal density areas lead to increased vulnerability. If a disease outbreak occurs, many animals may become infected. If you have livestock on your farm, make disease outbreaks part of your total disaster plan and include your veterinarian. It will have to include steps for disposal of animal mortalities.
Take the time now to develop and implement your disaster action plan. If disaster strikes, you will have a much better chance of minimizing losses and saving lives.