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Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Agroterror drill deemed successful

June 20, 2003

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— A two-day exercise testing the state's response to an agroterrorism attack left officials pleased with the results Thursday but fully aware that more work must be done.

The event, dubbed "Exercise High Stakes," tested the state's foreign-animal disease preparedness, simulating an intentional introduction of foot-and-mouth disease to livestock in southwest Kansas.

Maj. Gen. Greg Gardner, director of the state's emergency management and homeland security, said the presence of U.S. Department of Agriculture representatives, as well as the use of the National Agriculture Biosafety Center at Kansas State University, would improve preparedness at all levels of government.

"This one really does represent high stakes. To get it right is really important," said Gardner, also the state's adjutant general.

He said the potential economic impact of foreign-animal disease in Kansas was staggering, representing a $10 billion industry. There are four times as many animals susceptible to foot-and-mouth as there are people in Kansas, with a population of 2.6 million.

"The more I thought about it, the more I realized how appropriate the name of the exercise was," Gardner said.

Agencies representing agriculture, law enforcement, health and environment, and livestock, as well as private industry, participated in the exercise. Five states, including the Iowa emergency management agency, conducted exercises simulating an agroterrorism attack.

"The biggest element of our planning is communication," said George Teagarden, head of the Kansas Animal Health Department. "The biggest thing is we have to maintain the confidence of our consumers and the producers."

If an outbreak occurs, the public will have questions about the safety of the food supply, including if beef in the freezer is safe to eat, Teagarden 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. Legislators also took steps to expand the governor's ability to manage a terrorist event.

In 2002, Kansas tested its response to a smallpox outbreak, in an exercise known as Operation Prairie Plague. Based on that exercise, state and local health plans were modified to address shortcomings.

"That's the cyclical nature of planning, training, exercising and revising the plan," Gardner said. "Each time, we bring the plan farther."

Gardner and Teagarden will be meeting in coming weeks to discuss areas of the plan that need improvements based on the exercise.

Another part of the process will be continued work with counties and other local governments on their own response plans. The state plan relies on local emergency management offices to respond first to an incident.

Teagarden said the rumors last year of a foot-and-mouth outbreak at a Holton livestock auction, added with the discovery in Canada of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as BSE or mad cow, served as good reminders and helped with state preparedness efforts.

"People realize that it could become a reality in Kansas," Teagarden said.

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