Ag Emergency Management: Every Disaster is Local

It's not hard to visualize a freight train traveling through one of the agricultural valleys in Yuma County: Dome, South Gila, or Mohawk, they are either seen or heard at all times of the day, night, holiday or weekend. As they rarely blend into the landscape, their mere presence commands attention, and the proposed Union Pacific Railroad expansion a couple of years ago is a careful reminder why many of those who live and work in Yuma watch them.

All of a sudden a train derails, and tankers careen off the tracks. Hazardous materials begin to leak along the tracks, in agricultural fields, the surrounding land and neighboring irrigation canals and ditches. It is not known the magnitude of the event or if crops are at risk. Animals that rely on canal water may have been exposed to the effects of the hazardous material. And, no one is quite sure what exactly could be affected by the environmental aftermath of such an incident. The catastrophic event is one that no one ever wants to experience firsthand. More importantly, however, how can Yuma prepare for such an event?

Sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 70 representatives from Yuma County attended disaster and emergency management training at the National Emergency Training Center in Maryland last month. The center is designed for community specific training which included emergency simulations, disaster preparation and incident management. As emergency management can require coordination of normally independent agencies, simulated training whose focus is based on integration is vital to recovery.

Luis Miranda, the Yuma County Director of Emergency Management, will be one of the first people contacted in such an event. It is Miranda's job to act on any emergency or event that occurs in Yuma and affects agriculture in any way. Whether it is a flood, fire, plane crash or bio-terrorist act, hazardous spill, earthquake, Miranda knows which experts he needs to contact to make sure the agricultural impacts of that event are kept to a minimum.

In early 2007, Yuma County Emergency Management developed a community driven rapid response, disaster intervention/ recovery team. The strength of the system, developed for Yuma County, focuses on the integration of non-governmental groups (industry leaders; local growers, ranchers, producers and irrigation districts) into a cohesive response team capable of handling any type of agriculturally related disaster or threat. The Yuma County Farm Bureau, because of their direct communication with the farming community and their proactive approach of working effectively and efficiently within the agricultural industries, has been recognized as the point organization for managing agriculturally related emergency issues.

A dedicated agriculture response team is one that could handle a natural disaster or a terrorist threat and follow it to a successful conclusion. In the eyes of many in the Yuma area, every disaster is local.

Local Response to an agriculturally related emergency:
1. In consultation with first responders assign the emergency response level to the incident.
2. Determine the scope and level of initial response, initiate a task force, and prioritize response activities.
3. Determine the location and size of possible affective areas.
4. In consultation with other agency personnel, strategically assign duties and areas of responsibility.
5. Notify appropriate industry groups of the presence of the threat and request their support to contain and remedy the problem.
6. At the discretion of Yuma County officials, the Emergency Operations Center can be activated and make the necessary notifications to Homeland Security and State Officials.