Disaster can strike without a moment’s notice. Whether it be a fire, tornado or even an airplane falling from the sky, you will never be able to predict when a disaster may occur. What you can do, however, is develop a plan to help get your operation through an emergency. That is what Wisconsin dairy producers Marty Hallock and Jim Kroeplien did to help get their farms through some tragic times.
During a recent Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin webinar, Hallock and Jim Kroeplien, along with Kroeplien’s daughter Rachel, spoke on their personal experience on handling emergency situations on the farm.
Hallock, owner of Mar-Bec Dairy, lost part of his freestall barn in the winter of 2019 after heavy amounts of snowfall caused his building to partially collapse. During the summer of 2018, Jim Kroeplien, owner of Fly-By Acres LLC, had the unfortunate incident of having an antique aircraft crash into his calf facility, killing more than 30 animals and injuring two of his employees.
While these emergency situations are vastly different from one another, both Hallock and the Kroeplien’s shared similar advice to other producers looking to prepare for a disaster. Here are 10 tips they provided:
BEFORE DISASTER STRIKES
1. Have a plan in place. Then, have a backup plan.
“One of things that really helped is that we had a plan for a crisis,” Rachel Kroeplien says. “We didn’t plan for a plane crash, but we did have a plan for a video release, a tornado and for a fire. We knew what we had to do and what had to be done, and that really helped us.”
Rachel also suggests having an emergency backup plan set in place, in case your family is not at the farm during the crisis or if certain people are unable to help.
2. Review your insurance plan and coverage frequently.
Both producers suggested looking over your insurance plan and coverage on an annual basis to know where you stand and if anything needs to be readjusted to meet your current needs. This may include adjusting the coverage you have on your animals, as the replacement market fluctuates.
3. Identify key people who can help, and have their contact information readily available.
“One of the things that really helped us through [our disaster] is that we work with our first responders quite a bit,” Rachel says. “Our first responders were constantly practicing on the farm prior to the accident. We had a really great working relationship with our first responders and our sheriff’s department, and we think that really helped us. Everybody could stay calm because they knew exactly what the setup on the farm was before the accident.”
4. Have accurate emergency contact information on your employees.
One specific tip that Jim Kroeplien learned during his emergency situation was the importance of having accurate emergency contact numbers for his employees. During the plane crash, two of his calf feeders were seriously injured and needed to have their family members notified about their situation.
“We were digging through file cabinets to try and find the [workers’ emergency contact] information and the two people that were injured were boyfriend and girlfriend and used themselves as emergency contacts for each other,” Rachel Kroeplien says, adding that it took extra time for her to find the appropriate contact information for their employees’ family members.
5. Have statements and core values pre-prepped.
“Another part of creating an emergency plan is starting to prepare statements,” Rachel says. “Know that you are going to probably end up dealing with the media and that you aren’t going to have time to think of a statement under stress.”
Rachel also suggests having a media section in your emergency plan where you can store your farm’s mission statement and core values.
SHOULD DISASTER STRIKE
6. Take care of your people.
In the event that a disaster does impact your operation, Hallock stressed the importance of taking care of your people so they can help take care of you. During the middle of the chaos, Hallock made sure to provide a hot meal for all his employees who had been working non-stop since the barn had collapsed.
“What was interesting is that you could see people coming around to their senses and calming down while we were eating,” Hallock said. “We were all talking about the event, and it gave us some time to figure out what needed to be accomplished next.”
7. Document everything!
“Documenting is really, really important,” Jim Kroeplien says. “We have a 5-inch binder full of documentation as well as a big tote of paperwork. Every conversation we've had with lawyers, insurance agents and insurance adjusters have been printed off and it has been really helpful.”
According to Hallock, it is also important for you and your employees to take pictures of any damage that occurred. He does warn, however, that it is essential that only the people who need to have access to the pictures has them. Otherwise, they could accidently be released on social media.
8. Be prepared to deal with people who have no farming experience.
Both Hallock and Jim Kroeplien mentioned that one of the hardest parts of dealing with a disaster is working with insurance adjustors who do not understand how a farm operates.
“You’re going to have to work with people who do not have a clue about farming,” Kroeplien says. “It’s just something that you are going to have to deal with, and it can be really, really frustrating.”
When working with those who have no farming experience, try to keep calm and explain how and why things are done a certain way, the producers advise.
9. Have one person tell your story.
When the media comes knocking at your door, Rachel Kroeplien suggests having only one person tell your story.
“Take time to pause and put the facts together,” she says. “Then only have one person talk [to the media.] That way the story stays the same every time.”
10. Try to keep a positive mindset.
In the midst of a disaster, it can sometimes be hard to keep a positive mindset. Though it can be difficult to keep dark thoughts at bay, both Hallock and Kroeplien recommend working to think of the positives during a negative situation.
“Sometimes when you are against the wall, look at the positives,” Hallock says. “Cows and buildings can be replaced. People cannot.”