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0909 PD: Prepare, practice, be safe

Rick Purnell Published on 05 June 2009

An emergency can strike your operation at any time. Whether it’s a personal health incident, employee accident or natural disaster, having a plan in place and on paper will make it easier for employees, family members, neighbors and first responders to better handle the situation.

A farm emergency plan can provide firsthand information about the location of personnel, facilities and animals to minimize the impact of a disaster and to help make early response more effective.

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Brian Oatman, environmental health and safety manager for the agriculture and natural resources division of the University of California – Davis, says planning for emergencies and disasters before they happen keeps you from scrambling and not doing things on the fly when train wrecks do occur.

“While sometimes there’s a regulatory basis for an emergency plan, it’s a ‘best practice’ to have one for the farm and for home,” Oatman says. “Don’t get caught up in the latest scare, such as bird flu or other diseases or issues, when planning. A sound plan should cover flood, fire, extended power outages, accidents, sudden illness and severe injuries. If you have these examples covered, you’ll be able to address larger issues more easily.”

Oatman adds that a plan doesn’t have to be horribly difficult or extensive to be effective. It needs to be complete, however, written down and rehearsed. He suggests having a script or detailed notes on hand to tell first responders how to get to your place. Often in the natural scrambling act after an emergency, people forget details. Having them written and in a recognized place is one way to assure faster, accurate response. The UC Agricultural and Natural Resources Environmental Health and Safety website has several resources at http://safety.ucanr.org

Simple, complete, effective
Rod Volbeda has an operation near Salem, Oregon, and milks 400 to 450 cows conventionally and 100 to 150 to organic standards. He also operates Willamette Valley Cheese Company, which produces farmstead cheeses. He says being prepared for emergencies doesn’t need to be an elaborate process to be effective.

“We have several emergency items set in place, primarily related to injuries, fires and law enforcement, if needed,” Volbeda says. “Next to each phone are numbers for the fire department, ambulance, hospital and minor emergency clinic. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve only had to use the minor emergency clinic twice, each time for minor injuries. We’ve never had to call the fire department. However, we train each staff member to immediately locate a management person or one of the three members of our safety committee as soon as possible after taking appropriate action.

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“It’s worked, too,” he adds. “Both times we used the emergency clinic, I was notified right away and knew what was happening.”

The simplicity, yet thoroughness of plans Volbeda describes isn’t lost on industry leadership. Rural Mutual Insurance Company (RMIC) and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF) are just two examples of organizations providing resources to help with emergency planning. The two companies offer three templates on CDs and through their websites as guides to develop policies for employee management, farm safety protocols and emergency response. They’re available at www.wfbf.com or www.ruralins.com

“Few of us spend enough time thinking about the ‘what-ifs’ that can happen,” Bill Bruins, WFBF president, says. “These tools can help producers prepare for everyday management and emergencies with the unique features of their farms in mind.”

The individual features Bruins refers to are critical for first responders to have available. Fire personnel, emergency medical technicians and disease control officials can perform at their best when they have as much information as possible on hand.

A sampling of the plan information Bruins and his colleagues recommend include:

• A list of family members, neighbors or employees who are familiar with your farm business

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• A list of emergency contacts

• Description of medical histories or medical information of family members and employees

• A description of the location of the farm and directions from the nearest major intersection

• Telephone grids of those to help provide livestock care, emergency feed, water, power etc.

Communicate your needs
Whether your operation’s emergency plan is brief or exhaustively extensive, it’s critical that employees and emergency response personnel are clear on how to execute it.

“During an emergency, a crisis mode of thinking often sets in,” explains Sandy Goff, program manager for the animal welfare program with Validus Services in Urbandale, Iowa. “You must be very clear so that things are handled the way management wants.

“Especially if your operation is a large one and if there are several dairies nearby, work with emergency personnel so they know what you expect, who to contact and where things are located on the farm. Share your plan with them. In doing so, you can rely less on frazzled employees conveying plan specifics to responders,” Goff says.

“Remember, you need consistency in action whenever there is an emergency,” she adds. “Unless all people involved are fully familiar with the plan and how to implement it, a disaster at 2:00 a.m. or whatever inconvenient hour, will not be handled the way management expects. Be certain everyone, including non-English speaking personnel, know what to do.”

Goff also stresses having contingencies in place for emergencies in closed building systems, extended water and power supply failures and even high-mortality catastrophes. In the latter case, having plans in place to dispose of carcasses and control disease outbreak can mean minimal impact for your operation, as well as that of the entire industry.

“Because of the continual flow of food product out of dairies, you’ve got to have a backup plan for everything,” she says. “This industry does not need a massive product recall, let alone one that could be avoided by straightforward planning.”

Where to start
If you don’t have a full-fledged emergency plan in place, you can start with the form on the Progressive Diaryman website. Additional resources are available from your dairy cooperative, extension service, on-farm consultants and local emergency response officials. If you already have a plan, there’s no better time to review and update it than now.

Disaster response officials at the national, state and local levels recommend reviewing your plan annually and updating it if needed. Emergency drills are helpful too. Be sure to include lists of hazardous and explosive products that may be stored on your location. Even a hand-drawn map of your place can be helpful.

Make it as easy as possible on first responders, family, friends and employees too. Include notes on who, in addition to emergency personnel, should be contacted if disaster strikes. Assign someone to care for pets should the disaster take you or management away from the location for any length of time. If desired, have someone contact your minister or faith leader.

Ideally, your planning, practicing and updating will never be needed for an actual emergency or disaster. However, your operation will benefit from careful emergency planning as you become more aware of day-to-day actions you can take to make the place run more smoothly and more safely. PD

A complete emergency plan form can be found on our website at www.progressivedairy.com/pd/features/2009/0909/0909_purnell.html

Rick Purnell
Director
RPR Company

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