By Jackie Sosby
Georgia Department of Agriculture
and Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Georgia just increased its agroterrorism preparedness another level by launching the local phase of the Agrosecurity Awareness Training July 1."Whether it's a natural disaster, an animal disease, food contamination or a deliberate act of agroterrorism, the people who complete the training will know how to recognize something is wrong, who to call and what to do if it occurs," said Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin. "The ultimate goal is to make sure that Georgia agriculture and food are safe and secure."
Georgia's Homeland Security Task Force Agroterrorism Committee sponsors the training program which is being delivered across the state by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agents. The committee is chaired by Lee Myers, state veterinarian and assistant commissioner of animal industry for the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
Trainings across the state
Up to 3,500 agriculture first responders are expected to receive training over the next six months. The goal is to provide basic agrosecurity awareness training to people across Georgia who would likely mobilize during an agrosecurity incident.
"We were the first state to include local jurisdictions in our statewide homeland security agriculture assessment," Irvin said. "We knew we had to get down to the local level to adequately build a proper defense against agroterrrorism."
UGA and partners from government agencies developed the training with a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The curriculum includes textbooks, presentations and a website with materials and information about the one-day training sessions.
"This training, which is already considered a national model,helps address how we will safeguard Georgia's agriculturalsector and food supply, both key components of our critical infrastructure," said OHS-GEMA Director Mike Sherberger.
County agents will conduct
UGA Extension agents, who will conduct one-day training sessions in their communities, were trained this spring. Potential participants include traditional first responders, such as law enforcement, firefighters and EMS, as well as farmers, veterinarians, food processing managers, grocery store managers and others engaged in agriculture or agribusiness.
"UGA Cooperative Extension is in a unique position to provide educational training, especially on issues of agrosecurity," said Don Hamilton, UGA Extension's homeland security coordinator. "Our representatives are on the front lines of food and agriculture each day serving as expert eyes and ears across the state."
Hamilton says once trained, class participants will better know how to spot an agrosecurity incident and what to do if an incident occurs.
"We're 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.
Not just terrorist acts
"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."
Incidents include natural disasters, he said, which UGA Extension is already traditionally prepared to handle.
"The way emergencies are handled is essentially the same whether it's manmade 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."
If you are a potential first responder and want to sign up for an agrosecurity training session, visit the program Web site at www.agrosecurity.uga.edu or call your local UGA Extension agent.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)