By Emily Wilmes, U of M Extension
Weather and life on the farm can be totally unpredictable, so it’s important that we plan for even the most unexpected of circumstances. Creating an emergency action plan for your farm might seem like a time-wasting task, but it could save lives if the unexpected does happen. Take the time to get together with everyone who works on your farm, and start planning. Creating an emergency plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Having just a few key pieces of information can help you create a quick and simple plan.
First, determine what kind of plans you need. In Minnesota, farmers should consider having emergency plans in place for tornadoes, floods, severe snowstorms, and fires. Also, know what alert plans are in place for your community, and figure out the best way to alert one another in order to set your plan into action.
Second, create a map of your entire farm site. Include all buildings and structures as well as access routes. Access routes include roads, lanes, and driveways to the farm site itself as well as different areas of the farm. Other items that are important to include are all fences and gates, locations of all livestock, locations of all hazardous substances, and locations of shut-offs for electricity, water, and other utilities. Of course you know where everything is, but seeing it drawn out in front of you will help you see the opportunities and challenges when making your plan.
Third, make lists. You will want lists for a few different things. One of those is a full list of your farm inventory. Include all livestock on the farm, listing species and number of each species. Also include crop types, number of acres, and whatever crops you have stored on the farm. All machinery and equipment, including serial numbers, should be on the list as well. Your inventory should also include hazardous substances such as fuel, fertilizer, and medicines.
You should also make an emergency contact list. Include phone numbers for your vet, county emergency management, Extension office, and your insurance agent. One final list to make is all of the businesses that supply services to or for your farm. Include your milk processor, feed and fuel delivery, and anyone else who is on the farm regularly and should be alerted after something happens on the farm.
Fourth, understand your current position. Contact your insurance agent and review your coverage for emergency and disaster situations. Check what you have for supplies that you may need in an emergency, such as tools, fire extinguishers, and generators. Determine what areas you can utilize in an emergency situation for livestock and equipment relocation. This is also a time to review buildings for any structural compromises or loose materials. Repairing weak areas or cleaning up unused materials laying around could help keep animals and people safe during adverse weather conditions.
Fifth, create the action plan. You will most likely have two scenarios to review: one of sheltering in place, and another of evacuation. If you are going to be sheltering in place, plan for what to do if resources are cut off. Do you have backup power? Backup fuel? What will you do if an access route gets blocked? Determine what actions will need to be taken and who will need to be contacted if this happens.
When creating an evacuation plan, look at the map you created. What is the best escape for animals? Which gates need to be opened? What happens if an identified route is blocked? Also consider where your hazardous materials are stored. If you are dealing with a fire, anything that is potentially explosive should be stored as far away from animals as possible. If you are able to gain access to these materials before they are reached, where should you move them to? Along with your animals, make a plan for your people. Where is a safe place to take shelter? Where should they evacuate to? Make sure these are made clear to everyone working on the farm so that everyone stays safe.
Finally, contact your local fire and sheriff’s department. Let them know you have created this plan and ask them if they would like to review it with you or would like a copy. It’s a good idea to have the people you may be depending on to help you in the loop.
I hope you and your farm are always safe from disaster, but if bad weather or fire does strike, it’s important to be prepared. Having a plan can make the difference between losing it all or saving everything.