State officials call for better disaster planning

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Fourth-grade students from Roachdale and Bainbridge elementaries took part in livestock demonstrations Wednesday during Ag Week activities at the Putnam County Fairgrounds. Members of 4-H Junior Leaders worked with the children throughout the day, teaching them about raising livestock. There were demonstrations for chickens, rabbits, swine, cows, sheep, conservation and Farm Bureau.

It may be unlikely that a windswept cornfield or a flock of sheep grazing on a hillside in Putnam County could be the catalyst for a nationwide disease outbreak or the target of a terrorist attack, but a top state official says it's possible.

Veterinarian Sandy Norman, with the state Board of Animal Health, told community members who took part in local Ag Week activities on Wednesday that they should be aware of the threats to the nation's food supply and take steps to defend against them.

She said farmers, business owners, law enforcement and local emergency management officials all play a part in the planning for the safety of livestock and crops. It is also important for the general public to be educated about such matters.

The common threats against livestock, which most people have become accustomed to hearing about on nightly news programs, are foot and mouth disease, Mad Cow, avian flu among others.

Norman is among a group of veterinarians pushing to improve the lag time that exists between the time an animal that shows signs of an illness is tested and the time those results are returned from the testing lab. She said she hopes to reduce that time from 24 hours or more to less than six, thus expediting the response efforts.

Disease isn't the only thing threatening agriculture.

Norman says she is concerned about one major threat that has never been seen in the United States -- agri-terrorism.

In a place like Putnam County where crime is relatively low and rural life continues much as it has for more than a century, an attack on the food supply seems unlikely. But Norman worries that it could happen fairly easily because a majority of farms lack the security necessary to keeping the terrorists out.

She talked Wednesday about someone she knew who visited a farm recently and remarked about how easy it was for him to access the farm without anyone knowing he was there. Presumably a terrorist could do the same thing.

She said she believes it is important to educate farmers about the threats and provide them with the resources to prepare for them.

"They need to be part of the whole planning," Norman said of the farmers.

One of the hot topics among farmers, which Norman declined to delve into on Wednesday, is premise identification.

Organizers of the nationwide program say it is necessary to protecting animal agriculture from domestic and foreign threats. The state of Indiana requires it for all sites associated with the purchase, sale or exhibition of livestock, which includes children who participate in 4-H.

State law requires all cattle, bison, cervids, swine, sheep and goats to be registered with the premise I.D. program, according to the Board of Animal Health website. Poultry and aquaculture are also included in the plan and horses may be registered voluntarily.

The information required for premise I.D. includes the name, address and telephone number of the location where the animals are housed. General information on species and operation type are also included.

The complete question and answer section about premise I.D. is available on the health board website, located at boah.

Norman said Wednes-day that she believes it is important for a community to keep an inventory of its livestock and related equipment.

An example she gave was a large herd of cattle or other livestock that escape from a farm. It would be helpful for the county responders to know where all the horse trailers in the county are located so they could use them to round up the animals.

Additionally, she said she believes it is important for law enforcement and firefighters to know how to handle livestock in the event of a disaster where large numbers of animals are affected.

State law, Norman said, puts the responsibility of handling agriculture emergencies on the shoulders of the local Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

Following her talk on Wednesday, Norman told the BannerGraphic the most important thing she wants Putnam County to know is that the farms and the farmers are at the heart of the issues.

"They are our first line of defense," she said of the farmers.

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