An animal disease outbreak could threaten the nation's food supply and economy, but many emergency responders aren't trained to handle an agricultural disaster.
A training course for such disasters is coming to the area - the first of its kind in the state, said Dan Boyles, director of the Blair County Emergency Management Agency.
Officials from the AgPreparedness Center, based at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will present the course from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Penn State Devorris Downtown Center.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Cows graze at Rich-Lou Farms in?Martinsburg last week. A training course for agricultural disasters will help farmers, veterinarians and emergency responders learn how to handle a mass animal fatality.
A course will also be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Clearfield County Emergency Management Agency offices, Clearfield.
"I've been in this field for 21 years, and we've never had a course like this," Boyles said. "We've never experienced mass casualties and fatalities with domestic animals in central Pennsylvania, and we need to start learning how to manage a situation like that."
The course is open to the public and recommended for farmers, veterinarians, emergency services personnel, firefighters and law enforcement officials. There is no charge for the course; costs are covered by funds from the Department of Homeland Security.
How to sign up
AgPreparedness responder training courses will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Clearfield County Emergency Management Agency, Clearfield, and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Penn State Devorris Downtown Center, Altoona.
To register, visit www.agpreparedness.org, or call Dan Boyles at 940-5905 to register for the course in Altoona or Dave McClure at 765-5357, ext. 2, for the course in Clearfield.
A minimum of 25 participants is needed to hold the course; last week, Boyles said about 10 people had signed up. Participants will be trained in the concepts of biosecurity, quarantine, personal protective equipment, euthanasia and disposal, and cleaning and disinfection.
Those concepts will teach participants how to minimize the effects of disease and agricultural disaster on their communities.
"We'll talk about new and emerging diseases and also apply that dealing with animals in floods, hurricanes - it's large-scale animal illness and comprised compromised health as well," said Jane Colacecchi, government relations coordinator for the AgPreparedness Center. "The focus of the class is livestock and poultry; this is not dog-and-cat rescue. It's specifically designed for production agriculture."
Boyles said he was exposed to livestock rescue when he assisted with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"Some farms in this area have 1,000 head of cattle," he said. "If there were a disease, and we had to bury that many dead and decontaminate the stables - are we really educated to do all that? At this point, I don't think so."
Most of the interest in the class so far has been from 4-H, FFA and agriculture educators, Boyles said, but he recommends that farms in the area try to send at least one employee.
"The average farmer doesn't have time to take a Saturday off," he said.
Still, averting an agricultural crisis is a grassroots effort, Boyles said, and begins with farmers.
"If farmers can identify an illness quickly, we can halt or eliminate the spread," he said.
While many parts of the country have put agricultural disaster training on hold, emergency management officials have been aware of the need for some time, Boyles said. In the early 1990s, mass amounts of cattle were lost when the Mississippi River flooded, and Hurricane Katrina caused widespread livestock fatalities, too.
"Fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes - we're pretty well prepared for those things," Boyles said. "We don't even look at these other scenarios."
Mirror Staff Writer Ashley Gurbal is at 946-7435.