First responders need to prepare for agroterrorism

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Agroterrorism may be a term many farmers haven't heard of, but it's one they need to understand in order to combat it, according to an expert with Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Farmers are prepared to respond to natural disasters, but in an age where the risk of human-caused disasters such as agroterrorism is an issue, farmers must be vigilant and know what to look out for, said David Marrison, an Ohio State University Extension educator. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

"It's one of those things that we hope never happens, but based on the reality of how the world is today, it's best to be prepared," Marrison said.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, agroterrorism is "the deliberate introduction of an animal or plant disease for the purpose of generating fear, causing economic losses or undermining social stability," the federal agency says on its website.

"Agriculture may not represent terrorists' first choice of targets because it lacks the shock factor of more traditional attacks; however, it comprises the largest single sector in the U.S. economy, making agroterrorism a viable primary aspiration," according to the FBI.

"It could be someone tampering with a dairy farm's milk production line or other food production on the farm," Marrison said. "Farmers and frontline responders need to know what the risks are and how to respond. It's all about being prepared for a worst-case scenario."

To that end, a free workshop on agroterrorism will be offered June 11 to teach famers, first responders and other agriculture professionals how to evaluate the impacts of an intentional attack on a segment of agriculture or a segment of the food system and to provide information about methods to limit vulnerabilities, Marrison said.

The Principles of Preparedness for Agroterrorism and Food System Disasters workshop, which is sponsored by OSU Extension and the Ashtabula County Department of Health, is also designed to teach participants to more clearly understand the threats posed to agriculture and the food system, he said.

"For instance, most farmers keep their facilities unlocked," Marrison said. "And some farmers may not be aware of who is on their farms at all times.

"It's not that we don't want to be able to trust people -- farmers have to have their guard up because they're producing food-grade soybeans, milk, wine and juice, cheese, fruits, vegetables, and meat. So farmers may want to start locking certain areas of their farms and using cameras to monitor who is on their land."

Topics to be discussed during the workshop will include:

  • Identifying targets.
  • Developing prevention.
  • Protection and mitigation strategies.
  • Building multidisciplinary response teams.
  • Identifying the roles of government agencies in an incident.
  • Principles of agroterrorism preparedness.
  • Weapons of mass destruction and methods of dissemination.
  • Identifying vulnerabilities and gathering intelligence.
  • Hardening targets and mitigation strategies.
  • Detection and diagnosis strategies and enhancing surveillance.
  • Principles of biosecurity.
  • Key elements of immediate and long-term response.

The workshop is the second of six courses in the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security Agro-terrorism Preparedness Curriculum for Frontline Responders series, Marrison said. The program is run by the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The program is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ashtabula County Expo Center, 127 North Elm St., in Jefferson, Ohio. The deadline to register for the free workshop is June 2. To register, go to ruraltraining.org. For more information about the event, contact Marrison at marrison.2@osu.edu or 440-576-9008, ext. 106.


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