$800K grant allows Mich. to train for disease outbreaks, weather disasters

The U.S. Agriculture Department grant will give incident command training between the agriculture industry and first-responders

By Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan agriculture department plans three training sessions for emergency responders after it was awarded more than $800,000 from the U.S. Agriculture Department to make training more accessible across the nation.

When emergencies, such as animal disease outbreaks, food-borne illnesses or weather- and climate-related disasters happen, food and agriculture are affected, said Elizabeth Zay, deputy emergency management coordinator at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Coordinated and rapid responses are necessary to protect public and animal health.

"This type of training, it focuses on the incident command system, which is part of systems and frameworks that are in place for emergency responders across the nation. ... So we're able to effectively and efficiently respond to all kinds of emergencies," Zay said. "It's part of the National Incident Management System ... so we can all work together using a common language."

The National Incident Management System allows agriculture industry first responders to operate under the same type of system as firefighters, law enforcement officers and public health officials during an emergency.

The funding will be used for two training summits in Nebraska and Ohio in 2024 for people working in emergency response operations and logistics. Michigan will host an event in the winter or spring of 2025, where first responders can train together.

"Animal disease and disaster responses require both national and regional coordination to ensure continuity of the food supply while protecting public and animal health," said Tim Boring, Michigan Agriculture Department and Rural Development director, in a news release. "We know when individual states have equitable access to emergency response resources and training, the whole nation benefits from more effective and coordinated emergency response."

The training sessions will be open to anyone who would respond to an emergency in the food and agriculture sector, including those at the USDA, in industry, local health departments and people who work with wildlife.

"State agriculture and animal health agencies without access to or the ability to travel to training is an impediment for emergency responders across the nation," said Brad Deacon, director of the state agriculture department's Office of Legal Affairs and Emergency Management.

The incident command system has been used when addressing foreign animal diseases like highly pathogenic avian influenza or African swine fever. First responders helping to put out the Grayling wildfire that sparked earlier this month also used it, Zay said.

"Anytime you see an emergency strike like that, and especially in the fire world, they're using the Incident Command System to organize and to efficiently respond," Zay said. "We're also responsible for plant health, so we use this for different types of emergencies like our response to spotted lantern fly in our fruit industry or box tree moth in our nursery industry."

The grant is one of 60 National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program projects funded in fiscal year 2023 by the 2018 Farm Bill.

"We're trying to strive for that coordinated and rapid response to all different types of scenarios like that, so we use this training to increase our success rate."

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