Several hundred thousand head of cattle are on U.S. roadways every day, and given the volume of cattle being transported, the likelihood of a truck being involved in an accident is high.
However, first responders and law enforcement officers aren't always trained in how to handle an incident with cattle.
As a result, North Dakota State University Extension specialists joined university and Extension faculty from across the country in developing the Bovine Emergency Response Plan (BERP) and teaching curriculum as a way for emergency responders to learn how to address accidents involving cattle transport vehicles more appropriately.
The plan includes standardized recommendations, suggestions and materials for emergency personnel in taking emergency calls, scene arrival and assessment, containment and security, extraction and relocation of cattle, disposal of dead animals, securing the wrecked transport vehicle, euthanasia and debriefing.
"Imagine that a semi loaded with cattle has crashed and rolled over," says Lisa Pederson, Extension livestock specialist at NDSU's Central Grasslands Research Extension Center near Streeter and one of BERP's developers. "It's dark outside and cattle are injured inside the semitrailer and loose on the scene. Our plan helps emergency personnel know how to assess the situation, make critical decisions, and keep themselves and the public safe."
The training is for farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, first responders such as firefighters and ambulance personnel, county emergency managers, law enforcement personnel, tow truck drivers, Extension agents, auction market owners, truck drivers hauling cattle and anyone else interested in first responder and public safety, and animal welfare.
BERP participants take part in classroom training, table-top exercises, demonstrations and practice. The participants learn how to:
- Improve response to emergency incidents involving cattle
- Recognize potential hazards and issues related to responder safety, public safety, and animal care and welfare
The program also encourages the development of customized plans that fit a jurisdiction's unique needs. Plus, participants learn how to do a better job of informing the public about what happened and how the situation was handled, which leads to the public better understanding actions involving cattle.
The program was developed with grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Beef Checkoff program, and is partially funded by the North Dakota Beef Commission
Extension agents have hosted BERP training programs in several locations throughout North Dakota.
"We also covered basic cattle-handling principles with hands-on cattle handling work at our local sale barn for those who had never been around livestock before," says Yolanda Schmidt, NDSU Extension's agriculture and natural resources agent in Pierce County. "Additionally, we had a hands-on euthanasia practicum."
First responders contacted Penny Nester, Extension's agriculture and natural resources agent in Kidder County, about holding a BERP training program in 2017 after responding to four accidents involving cattle semi-trailers on major highways.
"We learned really quickly the mistakes we made when responding to that accident," Jim Albrecht, the county's emergency manager, says about one of those incidents. "We didn't really know what to do and how to communicate interagency."
NDSU Extension launched the BERP program in North Dakota in 2017 by holding training sessions at four locations in the state. One of them was in Steele.
"Speakers covered a variety of topics related to crashes, including protocols for who does what, assessing the scene, containment, getting cattle out of trailers, humane euthanasia and disposal of cattle, relocation of cattle, debriefing of responders and more," Nester says.
Less than a month after that BERP training in Steele, Kidder County first responders were called to the scene of a semi-trailer fire with Canadian cattle on board.
"With the help of the local sheriff's department, emergency manager, veterinarian, and state and local brand inspectors, the scene was secured quickly and all animals were successfully unloaded and accounted for without any loss of life, either human or animal," Nester says.
Knowing how to respond properly to an incident involving cattle is very important, according to Paul Johnson, a member of Bisbee Fire and Rescue who took BERP training in December 2019.
"It's usually a big situation when it does happen, and it's the cooperation of the first responders that makes it either go smoothly or makes it go terribly, so we're just trying to make it go as smoothly as we can," he says.
Breana Kiser, Extension's agriculture and natural resources agent in Dickey County, is happy that the BERP training in her county brought together emergency coordinators, law enforcement officers, volunteer firefighters, livestock producers, brand inspectors and cattle haulers from multiple counties.
"It started the discussion of what the accident protocols are in each county, what is the level of livestock experience among the emergency personnel, and also networking for knowing who would be able to help with housing loose livestock and helping with the accident cleanup (righting the truck, having equipment on hand)," she says.
"It was excellent training in the fact we now at least have a starting point on how to handle cattle truck accidents - the basic to-do and not-to-do awareness that none of us had before - and quarantine rules, truck seals, etc., which is not included in any of our usual discipline training we receive," says Charlie Russell, Dickey County emergency manager.
He took the training with firefighters, emergency services personnel and law enforcement officials.
"I think the training is excellent and I would take it again in a heartbeat," he says.