Early recognition and rapid response to a foreign animal disease (FAD) are critical to mitigating the toll it takes, according to Dr. Justin Smith, deputy animal health commissioner for the Kansas Department of Agriculture. That is why he and other animal health and emergency preparedness personnel, including Sandy Johnson, the department’s emergency management coordinator, are dedicating time to travel the state of Kansas to meet with stakeholders about the state’s FAD response plan. “Knowing what to do and practicing is so important,” Johnson says about the state’s plan.
The KDA team was in my neck of the woods this week to not only hold an educational seminar but also to allow stakeholders from North Central Kansas practice one piece of the state’s response plan. While there are multiple diseases for which a response may have to be implemented, the focus of this particular session was foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
FMD has not been identified in the United States since 1929. This highly contagious disease of cattle, sheep, swine, goats, deer and other cloven hooved animals is not a food safety or public health threat. However, an outbreak could have potentially devastating economic consequences so local, state and federal government across the country work closely with the livestock industry and other officials to prepare, train and practice emergency response plans.
The room in the county’s health department was full for the seminar – with law enforcement officers, veterinarians, Extension agents, human health personnel, agricultural equipment dealers, and farmers and ranchers on hand. There are many aspects of a FAD response that must work together simultaneously. While KDA has worked with its partners to conduct full response exercises, Johnson says KDA is also taking a “one bite at a time” approach, focusing on specific elements of the response and holding trainings and exercises on the individual pieces.
The focus of this exercise was isolating the disease and stopping movement in the event of a FAD incident, which would not only be a key piece of a response plan but also a difficult component to effectively implement to stop the spread of the disease in a manner that allows the flow of commerce to resume as quickly as possible. In 2009, Kansas and Oklahoma exercised this piece of the plan in Southwest Kansas to determine how long it would take to get appropriate officials and equipment in place to establish a checkpoint, which could result in a full road closure, a detour around the incident area, a cleaning and disinfecting station, and/or a checkpoint to identify points or origin and points of destination for vehicles, especially those transporting agricultural products.
In addition to being tasked with identifying the “where’s” of such checkpoints (which included state and federal roadways as well as county roads), the group had to determine what types of materials and how many personnel would be necessary to implement the plan. Johnson said this helps identify the practicality of the plan. “In Kansas, there are more than 4,000 roads crossing into and out of the state. In addition there are many roads that pass into and out of each county. If it’s not feasible, don’t put it in the plan,” she says.
Preparedness activities have been ongoing in Kansas for many years, and Johnson says they will continue. “There will always be maintenance to do, but maintenance is far easier than starting from scratch. We have a lot of great partnerships with the Kansas Department of Transportation, highway patrol, emergency management, industry and others – we couldn’t do this without them. The cooperativeness at the state level is crucial,” she says. “The other thing is that Kansans understand how important this is. I rarely go anywhere where somebody grumbles ‘why are we doing this?’ They understand how important animal agriculture is in the state.”
To watch a video to learn more about implementing checkpoints, click here. For more information about the efforts in Kansas, visit http://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/emergency-management. Other resources for FAD preparedness include USDA APHIS, Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public Health, and FMDInfo.org.