SHERIDAN — Wyoming, Colorado and Montana Extension systems want to help Ag producers plan and prepare for natural disasters.
University of Wyoming Extension area educator Scott Cotton presented to the Sheridan County Board of County Commissioners during its staff meeting Monday about the Western Area Livestock and Agriculture Risk Mitigation Project.
He said the project brings together producers and emergency managers to improve plans and enhance agriculture and rural community resilience during disaster and emergencies.
The project is a three-year project sponsored by the UW, Colorado State University and Montana State University Extension systems.
Cotton said they’ve found that when planning for disaster education and response, the tactics tend to reflect characteristics of the East and South. He said the West needs a different strategy, as areas are more widespread, meaning a backup deputy or fire truck could be an hour away or longer.
“We’ve always been self-resilient; we self-deploy,” Cotton said. “…We’ve got long distances and few resources.”
The program was started for Montana, Wyoming and Colorado and is a series of one-day workshops. Through 2019, the program will also offer a Responder Academy in each state to “enhance team development capability.”
According to the Extension, the courses include Federal Emergency Management Agency and Peace Officer Standards and Training certified credits for emergency managers, law enforcement and others.
Seminar topics include, revisiting a county Ag plan, handling animals under duress, disease outbreak management, radio use and safety protocols, building better county Ag resources, response to livestock traffic wrecks and sheltering animals during disaster.
Cotton said the program has brought together Extension staff, brand inspectors, emergency managers, veterinarians, producers and governing bodies of county commissioners to figure out how to work together during disaster.
“It usually feeds back down to good communication on who has what, who can do what,” Cotton said. “But the reality of it is, if you don’t sit down in a meeting and talk to each other, when the balloon goes up, you aren’t ready.”
The sponsors have grant money to fund large parts of the program, Cotton said, but need location, hosts and support.
Sheridan County emergency management coordinator Bruce Edwards said the program was planned in Sheridan last spring but canceled due to small attendance. Now the group is trying to generate interest from the Ag community to get the program rescheduled.
Edwards said it was looking to the county for marketing help and support for the program.
“Disaster education is like pushing a rope uphill unless you have a teachable moment,” Cotton said. “And, unfortunately, those teachable moments are really mean.”