By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Statewide basic trainings should soon make Georgia agricultural workers better prepared for agrosecurity incidents.
Using a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the University of Georgia Extension Service will provide statewide training in basic agrosecurity awareness to more than 3,000 people this year.
The grant was awarded to the Georgia Department of Agriculture. It's being directed by the Georgia Agroterrorism Committee of the state's Homeland Security Task Force.
Hamilton leading UGA trainings
Don Hamilton, UGA Extension's homeland security coordinator, will organize the trainings.
"Our goal is to provide basic agrosecurity awareness training to people in the state who would likely be mobilized in the event of an agrosecurity incident," he said.
"The Extension Service is in a unique position to provide educational training, especially on issues of agrosecurity," he said. "(Its) representatives on the front lines of food and agriculture each day serve as expert eyes and ears across the state."
Hamilton said UGA Extension's county agents will be trained in March. The training will be ready to be offered to the public by the summer.
Learning what to watch out for
"Once people complete the training, they'll know what an agrosecurity incident looks like and what to do if it occurs," Hamilton said. He believes the training program will help everyone from local first-responders to grocery store managers and livestock farmers.
"We'll be educating folks on the value of agriculture in our state, and our ultimate aim is to make sure Georgia's agriculture is safe and secure," he said. "That's a full-time job."
Hamilton said agrosecurity incidents can range from a terrorist act to someone unknowingly bringing an agricultural disease into the country.
"Agrosecurity incidents aren't limited to manmade or terrorist events," he said. "They encompass almost any event in the food and agriculture arena that would affect human health and the agricultural economy."
Preparing for agricultural emergencies
Incidents include natural disasters, he said, which UGA Extension is more prepared to handle.
"The way emergencies are handled is essentially the same whether it's a manmade event or something from Mother Nature," Hamilton said.
"Our county extension agents are an essential part of the agrosecurity process," he said, "because we have a smooth system for disseminating information during times of disaster. These new trainings will further strengthen local communities' capabilities in the event of an incident."
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency, UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Georgia Department of Natural Resources are collaborating on the trainings.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)