If you can, imagine the ripples in a calm, still pool of water after a stone has been dropped in. The calm waters may be the quiet days of farm life here in Cherokee County. The stone would be a case of foot and mouth disease in a small hog confinement facility in the county.
The disease may start with the local producer, but then as investigations take place, it is found the disease has quickly spread through the county, then to the surrounding counties and through the state, then the surrounding states . It isn't long before international borders are closed to all animal movement.
Is our community ready to handle this level of disaster?
It's hard to imagine that one farmer could cause disastrous affects on the world market but with 22 percent of the United States exports being agriculturally based, it isn't hard to understand the economic impact that a single case of foreign animal disease would have on this entire country.
That is why Workshops on Management of Livestock Infectious Diseases, sponsored by ISU Extension are being offered this month. These workshops are conducted in a combined effort with the Emergency Management Agencies as result of $55,000 grant put together by six NW Iowa counties.
The counties of Lyon, Cherokee, Osceola, Plymouth, Sioux and O'Brien are each hosting a training exercise for rural residents and local officials. The purpose of the training is to help rural residents understand what will happen if there is an outbreak of an animal infectious disease, such as foot and mouth.
At the recent workshop held in Cherokee on March 1, producers, emergency service workers, county supervisors, county conservation personnel, veterinarians and others learned, in a hands-on demonstration, how one outbreak of a foreign disease could spiral out of control unless disaster planning measures are in place.
Those who attended learned that, in the event of a bio-security disaster, everyone has a role to play.
The workshop titled, "Infectious Animal Disease Disaster Planning," was presented by Dr. Patrick Webb, DVM who is also an agro-terrorism consultant. Webb began with a discussion about general disaster planning and used foot and mouth disease as an example.
Webb pointed out that it was important to put the plan together because Iowa did not have any plan that dealt with animal disease disasters. The suggested plan included rapid detection, rapid containment and eradication, and rapid recovery to limit economic losses.
The state and federal government has an agriculture disaster plan that includes the 'who does what,' but no information on how to implement the plan. This plan was put together to bring it to the local level and outline the 'how' of the plan. Secretary of Agriculture, Patty Judge, lobbied for funding to develop a plan after the foot and mouth disease outbreak overseas in 2001.
Foot and mouth disease was chosen as the model for the plan, because it is the worst case scenario, it has been in the news, it affects the widest range of animals, transfers to humans, and animals not affected by the disease can still carry the disease and spread it.
The plan, presented by Webb, defined the actions that occur at specific trigger points and assigns specific responsibilities to state agencies for responding and what their role would be in aiding with disaster recovery. Some of the key agencies responsible for responding at the local level are Iowa Department of Agriculture, Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety and Department of Public Health Services.
The objectives of the disaster plan include, prevention, detection, containment, eradication, surveillance and recovery. This plan allows for integration and scalability depending on the nature and severity of the disease disaster.
The first two steps of the plan are the most critical in controlling potential disaster. It starts with the producer calling a veterinarian to report a sick animal. If the sick animal looks like it has a suspicious foreign disease, the veterinarian is required by law to report it.
This is where responsible producers are critical to preventing the spread of the disease. Producers have to understand that the veterinarians are merely doing their job and the producer's cooperation is critical.
In the event a herd has to be destroyed, financial compensation is made.
He also points out, the investigations are discreet since a large majority of tests come back negative. This is done to prevent panic before the facts are known, protects the reputation of the producer and it protects the markets.
However, if test results do come back as a foreign disease then local communities have to handle the first three to seven days of the disaster plan, until the federal government can coordinate help.
At the state level, response involves, inter-agency communication, epidemiology and tracing (a massive undertaking), and managing state resources such as Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Another presenter was Lois Benson, DNR administrator from the field office in Spencer. Her presentation showed how the entire state has been mapped using global positioning to pinpoint potential areas for mass carcass burial, if it became necessary. The maps are color coded according to zones with red being a restricted zone where nothing can be buried, yellow indicates cautionary zones, which are about 68 percent of the state and finally the green zones are designated as no known restrictions.
Producers can log onto www.iowadnr.gov and click on the Livestock Burial Zones link then put in their township and range coordinates and see the map. They can also pull in an infra-red map to overlay the zone map to better identify potential areas. This would be beneficial to producer so he can also develop his options ahead of time before disaster strikes.
The DNR plays a role by helping the producer find an appropriate burial site and verifying site conditions. This is useful for other mass carcass burials that are not disease related.
Bruce Spence also made a presentation that outlined the roles emergency responders play in coordination of the disaster recovery plan. He pointed out that the plan needs to include one and only one person that all others can report to, called the Incident Commander.
Spence continued with a list of other jobs such as a safety officer, liaison officer, public information officer, operations officer, finance officer, logistics officer and planning officer.
There will be four more workshops held in March, with one each in Osceola County, Plymouth County, Sioux County and O'Brien County. The workshops are free and the public is invited to attend.
All sessions include a meal being served at 5 p.m. for evening programs and 11 a.m. for the noon programs. To receive a meal, you must pre-register with the hosting county's Extension Office at least five days in advance.
Monday, March 28
Melvin Community Center
Tuesday, March 29
LeMars Community Middle School
Wednesday, March 30
Sioux Center High School TePaske Theatre
Thursday, March 31
Hartley Community Center