Expert: Preparations protect farm assets when disasters strike

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Expecting the unexpected can protect farms and farm assets in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, says a Purdue Extension disaster communication specialist.

Regardless of the type of operation, producers need to assess parts of their operations that would be susceptible and develop disaster plans.

"Of course, the recent tornadoes in southern Indiana have captured the nation's attention, but the most common and overall most damaging natural disasters in Indiana are floods, straight-line winds, fires and winter storms," said Steve Cain, who also serves as the homeland security project director for the Extension Disaster Education Network. "Disaster planning starts with identifying high on-farm risks that producers might have overlooked and acknowledging past emergencies."

Cain offered disaster-planning tips that all producers should implement:

  • Back up computers and use off-site storage for electronic and hard-copy records. These records are irreplaceable and easily protected but often forgotten.
  • Use insurance wisely. It is one of the best ways to protect farm income. Properly analyze crop insurance to fit individual farm needs and be aware of what insurance protects on the farm. Read all of the policy details. "For example, if a disaster causes a power outage and you loose livestock in a confinement operation, will you be covered? A common mistake is to make assumptions that the insurance will cover you no matter what goes wrong, such as a backup generator failing after the disaster," Cain said. "Go over the policy and get written confirmation that various scenarios are covered."
  • Document assets for insurance purposes. Photos and videos, as well as receipts and documents showing the value of those assets will help.
  • Mitigate risks. These might include buying a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, labeling all truck and equipment keys and resolving electrical issues.
  • Invite emergency personnel to visit farm properties and assess major risks. This not only can help producers learn what areas could use improvement but also could help first responders understand how to handle a disaster on a specific farm.

Once farmers have a disaster plan in place, Cain said they, their families and their employees need to review and exercise the plan at least annually. While this doesn't have to be an in-depth exercise, it will help all of the people working on the farm to know who will execute what tasks should an emergency arise.

"When disaster strikes, it won't be the plan that saves lives and money; it will be in knowing how to carry it out successfully," Cain said.

Purdue offers two publications to help farmers prepare for disasters. The first, Rural Security Planning: Protecting Family, Friends, and Farms, is available for free download at https://mdc.itap.purdue.edu/item.asp?itemID=17468. The second publication, Plan Today For Tomorrow's Flood, raises awareness of how floodwaters pose risks to farms and agricultural retailers and their communities. It can be downloaded for free at https://mdc.itap.purdue.edu/item.asp?itemID=20037. Both publications also are available in hard copy for $5 each.



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