"FOOD & AGRICULTURE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT TODAY: GEORGIA PERSPECTIVE"
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"FOOD & AGRICULTURE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT TODAY: GEORGIA PERSPECTIVE"

By Venessa A. Sims, GA-CEM, MEP Director of Emergency Management, Georgia Department of Agriculture

Venessa A. Sims, GA-CEM, MEP Director of Emergency Management, Georgia Department of Agriculture

Food and Agriculture Emergency Managers are silent heroes across the nation that work daily to protect public health and plan, train, respond and recover to a wealth and breadth of topics that span the food and agriculture continuum. Just like any emergency management responder, considerations include networking and information sharing best practices, planning, training, evaluating performance, and engaged dialogue to promote more efficient response and recovery.

“Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan.” Food and Agriculture responders use the National Incident Management System/Incident Command System (NIMS/ICS). The State Agriculture Response Team (SART) and Georgia Food and Feed Rapid Response Team (RRT) reviews plans, policies and procedures, develops a Training and Exercise Plan, and responds to events. In 2018, Georgia updated the Food Emergency Response Plan (FERP) and hosted the first ever civilian intentional radiological food contamination exercise in the nation to prepare for Super Bowl LIIIandplans to conduct food defense operations for the 2020 Final Four. Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security (GEMA/HS) has the Georgia Certified Emergency Manager (GA-CEM) program that includes online, classroom, and field instructed courses; the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) also has the CEM® certification program; the FEMA Emergency Management Institute hosts the Master Exercise Practitioner (MEP) program (https://training.fema.gov/ mepp/) that promotes competencies in Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) training and cultivates standards in discussion and operational based exercises. As food and agriculture emergency managers, it is extremely important to engage in certification programs and network.

“Planning is Good, but RELATIONSHIPS are Everything!” (Wendy Smith, FBOH). Interagency networking and information sharing leads to effective planning, response, and recovery efforts. In Georgia, we regularly plan and train together. With budget cuts looming, the training continuum is often impacted. It is crucial that we continue to allocate dollars and allow for staff to travel and participate in these activities to identify gaps and areas for improvement so that we can apply mitigation strategies and improvements to our processes.

“Connecting the Dots” (Jason Bashura, Pepsi Co, Global Food Defense)

Any good emergency manager will tell you that building relationships today are critical. Having relevant contact information and broadening your network is important, as are regional partnerships, and mentorships. Learning from partner agencies like the Southern Animal and Agriculture Disaster Response Alliance, Multi-State Partnerships, National Association of State Animal and Agriculture Emergency Programs, National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition, and the Food and Feed Rapid Response Team (RRT) Program, have afforded states to build capabilities that wouldn’t have occurred without these regional and national partnerships. Find a local, state, and/or regional agricultural asset and lend your expertise or your contact information. This is where the networking and dot connecting becomes so important. Ask yourself, “Are you a good dot connector and could you be doing more?” A respected work associate and mentor, Jason Bashura, Senior Manager, PepsiCo Global Food Defense taught me long ago about the power of connecting the dots. Serving as an ESF 11 Coordinator for the State of Georgia, your network is central and vital in this role.

“Innovation Matters…Mentoring the Next Generation.”

I have seen many leaders in food and ag defense and agriculture emergency management walk out the door, and their knowledge with them. It is critical for continuity and success that we document our efforts in strategic plans, planning efforts, and in building the next generation. The loss of food and agriculture activities and delayed continuity of business efforts impacts public health and community resilience.

The Emergency Management Division has supported internships. Brandon Sauceda was the first to serve in this role coming from the Emory Rollins Earn and Learn (REAL) program in 2013 and now works as an IT Development Manager with the GDA IT Department. Brandon’s leadership in GIS technology has afforded the GDA to receive several top IT awards utilizing GIS: NASCIO 2019 State IT Recognition Award Finalist, the GMIS International GMIS “G2 Award” Government to Business, Georgia GMIS “Government to Business Award” (G2B), and the Georgia Technology Innovation Showcase Award 2019. Implementing GIS technology to support planning efforts and better inform directed response and recovery actions during an event has provided for timely and effective agriculture disaster actions. GIS capabilities has been a game changer, and GDA is pleased to be a leader in this area!

Jacob Swanson was highlighted in 2015 by the Emory Rollins School of Public Health “40 Years a Program, 25 Years a School” and acknowledged for his work at GDA. Jake said, “his REAL experience broadened his thinking about issues in food defense.”Jake grew up on a family farm in Iowa and now serves as Governor Reynold’s Agriculture Liaison for the state of Iowa and before that worked as a Special Assistant to the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.

Georgia actively engages in food defense awareness, education, and special event planning. In today’s world, it is crucial that we plan and prepare to address and mitigate food defense incidents both here and abroad. FDA defines food defense in the Intentional Adulteration Rule as “preventing intentional adulteration from acts intended to cause wide scale harm to public health.” (https://www.fda.gov/food/ food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/fsma-final-rule-mitigationstrategies-protect-food-against-intentional-adulteration). Several agencies in Georgia, to include law enforcement agencies and public health partners, worked collaboratively to create a food defense flyer, “Food Defense Awareness & Outreach: From Farm to Fork Our Goal is to Keep You Safe” that shows what to look for, who to report to, what to do, and also supports the well-known, “See Something, Say Something” and “See Something, Send Something” campaigns. Awareness, Vigilance, and Reporting are key to deterrence in this area. Additional food defense resources can be found on FDA, USDA FSIS, and TSA websites.

GDA intern, Kelley Raines researched and developed a poster and pamphlet on Agriculture Mental Health that provides references for farmers and agribusiness individuals to access and support mental health needs. The project goal was to provide approachable, educational, and implement able mental health resources for farmers in a manner that will overcome known barriers to accessing these resources. The research has shown one third of the agriculture population exhibit one or more serious behavioral health conditions such as depression and/or substance abuse. The suicide rate of male farmers was found to be roughly twice that of other males, concluding male farmers could be considered a health disparity group. Hurricane Michael was the worst agriculture disaster in Georgia history, and showcases the need to provide financial support and mental health services to best provide for a resilient agriculture community.

In closing, planning, training, mentoring, networking and innovation are all keys to success in a the agriculture emergency management world.

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