Topeka — State officials will spend two days in the coming week finding out just how prepared Kansas is to address an agroterrorism event.
Wednesday and Thursday, the state emergency operations center will be buzzing with activity as Kansas tests its command-and-control capabilities during a simulated attack of a foreign animal disease on the state's livestock herds.
The scenario has been developed by the National Agriculture Biosecurity Center at Kansas State University.
Participants will include county, state and federal agencies, as well as representatives from the livestock industry.
"Part of preparation is practicing your plan," said Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden. "That's the intent of this exercise."
With more than 10 million animals and $10 billion economic impact, an outbreak of a foreign animal disease in Kansas would be devastating to the Kansas economy.
For example, in 2002 rumors of a possible outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at a Holton livestock auction sent cattle prices tumbling. A similar effect was felt after the discovery of a case of foot-and-mouth disease in a herd in Canada.
Dr. Jerry Jaax, a veterinarian at Kansas State, is the principal investigator on a grant that established the biosecurity center, which is organizing the exercise. Coordination between various agencies, as well as the livestock industry, is central to preparedness, he said.
"Time is so critical in the initial stages of an infectious disease outbreak," Jaax said. "To lessen the impact and contain a disease effectively, local participants have to plan ahead."
Teagarden said Kansas began work on foreign animal disease threats five years ago, long before terrorism became a fixture in American life. As a result, he said, Kansas is further along in preparedness plans than many other states, ranking in the top five nationally.
"I think we're pretty well prepared, but we've never exercised the plan, as such," Teagarden said.
He credited the governor and the adjutant general's offices with helping put the state in position to address the potential threats.
Maj. Gen. Greg Gardner, state adjutant general and director of emergency management, said the state level event would involve "big time" outside agencies to assist Kansas in testing and improving its plan.
"It's just a maturing of our processing," Gardner said.
Kansas has been active in recent years to gird against agroterrorism, including passage of legislation making it a felony to intentionally introduce a plant or animal pathogen. Gardner said legislators also took steps to expand the governor's ability to manage a terrorist event.
But, Gardner said, there is room for improvement.
"The state is long ways from where we want to be," he said.
Teagarden said the next phase of statewide planning was to encourage counties and local units of government to adopt their own response plans. The state plan relies on local emergency management offices to be the first-responders to an incident.
"They're close enough to do it. We may overwhelm the counties, but we need someone there in the first 24 to 48 hours," Teagarden said.