For animal health officials, producers and veterinarians, a timely, coordinated and effective response to a multi-state animal health emergency is imperative to supporting the continuity of business that food animal industries so heavily rely upon. Earlier this month, the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence, and the Texas Center for Applied Technology (TCAT), a part of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, hosted an emergency exercise of the AgConnect® system to test its ability to support emergency response decision-making necessary to control the spread of disease in an outbreak.

More than 60 state and federal animal health officials, veterinarians, industry members and producers gathered for the exercise, held at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Emergency Operations Training Center on August 2-3. The data-driven exercise focused on a notional, high-consequence porcine disease affecting Kansas, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa and two major swine integrators. Participants experienced how the AgConnect® system would allow for more efficient communication and sharing of data to support informed decision making during an animal health emergency.

As one of the earliest AgConnect® users, Keith Roehr, DVM, Colorado State Veterinarian, was able to attest to the usefulness of the software during preparation and response to an emergency event. Roehr and his team have used AgConnect® to map and track disease incidence during Vesicular Stomatitis Virus outbreaks in the state and have used the system to push out important information to emergency managers and livestock owners during a wildfire and heavy metal hazards river spill. Through participation in the exercise, Roehr and his team were able to experience the data-sharing capabilities and functionality of AgConnect® that would be required to support a real-world outbreak.

“During the exercise, the interaction with other states and the swine industry as the event unfolded was a valued experience,” Roehr said. “The ability to network with the states and livestock producers was a unique opportunity to see the effectiveness and efficiency of AgConnect’s® capabilities.”

In addition to state animal health officials, the swine industry was also represented by JBS Live Pork, the National Pork Board, the Center for Food Security and Public Health, the Swine Health Information Center and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV).

Harry Snelson, AASV director of communications, echoed Roehr’s comments about the importance of AgConnect® in allowing decision makers to work together based off shared situational awareness.

“The use of real-world data and live connections to numerous disparate databases highlighted the value of AgConnect’s® ability to allow animal health officials to visualize the data necessary to facilitate disease control and manage animal movements while maintaining business continuity within the swine industry,” Snelson said. “During an animal health emergency, efficient real-time access to accurate data is critical for timely decision-making. Use of the AgConnect® tool provided seamless visualization of producer, laboratory and regulatory data necessary to permit movements and track disease status while ensuring consistent data ownership and permission-based access to the data sources.”

By holding the exercise, IIAD and TCAT aimed to both showcase and assess the AgConnect® technology and how its use can shorten the response process to an emergency event by increasing effectiveness and efficiency of situational awareness and decision making.

Throughout the two-day exercise, participants used AgConnect® to work through various notional commercial swine movement requests necessary for business continuity during an animal disease outbreak. Following each of the requested movement scenarios, state animal health officials and industry representatives came together for discussions to determine if the requested realistic movements could occur and how AgConnect® assisted with their decisions.

“In preparation for the exercise, we spent many hours working with swine industry representatives and animal health officials to ensure the scenarios included notional business continuity movements based on realistic situations and movement data from the pork industry, and that the accepted biosecurity and disease transmission regulations normally utilized during a disease outbreak were used,” said Dee Ellis, DVM, MPA, IIAD AgConnect® project manager. “From the moment the notional outbreak occurred in the exercise – subsequently requiring creation of disease control zones, evaluation of on-farm epidemiological assessments and generation of requests for commercial swine movement due to business continuity considerations – we wanted to make sure the participants were able to utilize the AgConnect® technology and experience its ability to help facilitate communication and effective decision-making.”

The AgConnect® team will be taking feedback gained from the exercise participants to continue to evolve the suite of tools as its pilot program expands into new industries and markets.

“I think that exercise participants – both users and non-users of the system – were able to walk away with a clear understanding of what the introduction and adoption of a tool like AgConnect® can do for our food animal industry,” said Gerald Parker, DVM, Ph.D., M.S., IIAD interim director. “Inserting new technology into current operational practices can be challenging, but the threat of an accidental or intentional major disease outbreak is not going to get any smaller in the coming years. By adopting a tool like AgConnect® now, a user would get the benefit of its day-to-day applications for data collection and analyzation in addition to the benefit of being familiar with and having a robust and powerful tool to use in the event of a major animal disease outbreak.”