An upcoming exercise on the Kansas State University campus to test state response to an viral outbreak in livestock is two years in the preparation and includes plans and countless contingencies for everything from traffic monitoring to communicating with the media.
Here's something the exercise's designers didn't prepare for: One of the biggest players in such an emergency and hence the exercise, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is absent due to the federal government shutdown.
But the ag emergency preparedness exercise must go on. Sandra Johnson, emergency management coordinator for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said the USDA's role will be simulated by exercise participants.
The exercise itself, which will take place at the Biosecurity Research Institute in Manhattan Wednesday and Thursday, costs more than $100,000, much of it funded through grants from the Department of Homeland Security. It involves more than 200 people and pulls together agencies from within Kansas, including the agriculture department and the Kansas Department of Transportation, as well as industry and agencies from other states.
Johnson said the exercise will begin with notification of a possible instance of foot-and-mouth disease, or FMD, in a nearby state. FMD is a highly contagious pathogen that can infect cattle, swine, sheep, goats, deer and other cloven-hoofed animals. It creates painful lesions for the animals and can cause them to go lame. Although it doesn't infect humans, the public as a whole doesn't necessarily know that, so public information must be part of a response plan, Johnson said.
No cases of FMD have been identified since 1929. Yet because of the density of livestock populations in Kansas feedlots and slaughter houses, an outbreak of FMD could wreak havoc on the state's economy. It represents a kind of worst case scenario for animal agriculture that makes for a robust test of preparedness. "If we can do that, the other ones would be easy," Johnson said.