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Colorado’s rapid response efforts gain momentum

August 6, 2010

[Source: High Plains Journal]

A coordinated national effort to respond to animal health disease situations is gaining ground. Every state has developed or is in the process of developing systems to respond rapidly and effectively to emergency livestock incidents and disease outbreaks.

Colorado is one such state, with the Colorado Rapid Response to Agriculture and Livestock System. While still not fully implemented, the system is well on its way to involving all sectors of the livestock industry.

The CORRAL system has six main components, hence the six-letter acronym.

–Communication capability: Using a dispatch system for alerts, warnings, and notifications;

–Operations center: Enhancing the Livestock Division Operation Center;

–Resources: Building a roster of CORRAL responders and physical resources;

–Relationships: Strengthening relationships with other state and governmental agencies;

–Agreements: Developing mutual agreements between agencies and other states; and

–Livestock emergency plans: Sector-specific plans integrated with Colorado’s livestock industry.

“We were looking at ways to enhance our livestock emergency response. Over time, say the last 10 years, there’s been a lot of activity in that area for all animals,” said Nick Striegel, DVM, Colorado Assistant State Veterinarian and coordinator of the CORRAL system. “For the Colorado Department of Agriculture, we really wanted to focus on livestock. That’s where our authority comes in, especially in disease outbreaks or in other emergency incidents involving livestock.

“Where disease is involved, either strictly in livestock or in disease in livestock, that may have public health implications–and the Department of Public Health and Environment would be involved with that, too–the goal is to enhance our efforts in that area in responding to some sort of livestock incident and find ways to build our capacity, build our resources.”

Nimble communications

The primary effort in the system is in having nimble communication capability with first responders at the time an incident occurs.

CDA has developed a database connected to the Colorado Department of Public Safety’s Office of Preparedness and Security through the Dialogic Corporation. Dialogic is a vendor that deals with public safety organizations.

“They have this database that we enter information of our people, and Dialogic has a dispatch service for sending large groups of interactive messages, whether e-mails, voice messages or text messages,” Striegel said.

“We’ve tested the system with our CORRAL responders. Our dispatch service has the contact information for just about all the licensed veterinarians in Colorado. Not all of those veterinarians practice in Colorado, but they are licensed here.”

The list is broken down into practice groups, such as livestock-large animals, mixed practice and equine practice. CDA has asked the veterinarians if they would be interested in being a CORRAL responder in case of an incident, so that they may be quickly deployed to incident sites.

“From that big database, we now have about 135 CORRAL responders who are interested and have made themselves available,” Striegel said. “In that 135, we not only have veterinarians, we also have Extension agents, some who are livestock specialists. A few others are 4-H agents who work a lot with livestock projects. We have about 20 of those people in that group.”

The system got a shakedown test during the last National Western Stock Show.

“We activated the system from a remote location at the National Western, rather than our offices, sending out alert messages to the responders we had at that time–about 120,” Striegel said. “It was a voice message saying it was only a test but if it were an emergency you would be needed in central Colorado. Would you be able to deploy?”

The responder would then answer yes or no. If the answer came up yes, they would have entered their estimated time of arrival at the incident site.

“Within just a few minutes, I had a report telling me how many could respond and deploy to the area,” Striegel said. “I had 56 responders tell me they could respond within six hours. That gave us an idea of our response capacity. We plan a full-scale exercise down the road. One will use the National Veterinary Stockpile.”

National Stockpile

The NVS provides the veterinary countermeasures–supplies, equipment, field tests, vaccines, and response support services–that states need to respond to catastrophic animal disease outbreaks that terrorists or nature may create.

According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 established the NVS in 2004 to protect the nation’s food supply by holding countermeasures against the 17 most damaging animal diseases, and by deploying the countermeasures in 24 hours.

The directive reflected the national concern that terrorists could simultaneously release animal diseases of catastrophic proportions that would quickly deplete state and industry resources and overwhelm the private sector’s ability to support such a disaster.

The NVS’ mission is to deploy countermeasures against the worst animal diseases, including highly pathogenic avian influenza, Foot and Mouth Disease, Rift Valley fever, exotic Newcastle disease, and classical swine fever.

It’s also charged with helping states plan for, train and exercise the rapid acquisition, receipt, processing, and distribution of our countermeasures during an event.

“Our system will have to handle anything that includes traceback and treatment to those worst-case scenarios,” Striegel said. “One of those worst cases is Rift Valley fever, which we don’t have in the country right now. It is in Africa and can be transmitted directly by contact or by mosquitoes.

“Imagine an airplane carrying a mosquito with Rift Valley fever virus in its cargo hold, and it somehow got released and exposed itself to ruminants. Bad thing about that one is that it also affects people.”

The NVS includes everything from personal protective equipment to vaccines to livestock handling items.

“There are stockpiles across the U.S. that can be accessed within 24 hours to any point in the country. Most of our stockpile is in the Denver area,” Striegel said. “We’re working with APHIS to build up our stockpile to the point we can have a proper full-scale exercise in the fall of 2011 with the National Veterinary Stockpile. They would ship equipment to us and we would work the logistics of getting the stockpile to the incident site or sites.”

“Admittedly, our state–and a lot of states for that matter–doesn’t have all the needed equipment and supplies that it’s going to take for any kind of major outbreak.”

Response to such an outbreak in Colorado would be a coordinated effort between State Veterinarian Keith Roehr and Roger Perkins, the area veterinarian in charge of APHIS, to make the determination that both CORRAL and the NVS would need to be activated. That request would go up the line to Dr. Brian McCluskey the APHIS Western Regional Director based in Fort Collins. If he agrees, then that request would go up to the director of the National Veterinary Stockpile for action.

“This can happen pretty fast. It’s not some long-drawn-out process,” Striegel said. “Once we have our full state plan in place with NVS, then it can happen even faster because they’ll know our capabilities and know what to ship. What we don’t use, we have to ship back or pay for it.”

Response Corps

The CDA effort at animal disease incident response is connected to the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps. NAHERC is a program of USDA-APHIS and comprises Veterinary Medical Officers, Animal Health Technicians, and veterinary medical students assimilated into an elite animal health and food defense force within the emergency management response community.

The professionals who become members of NAHERC would be paid for their veterinary participation in a federal response to livestock disease outbreaks, threats, or natural disasters in which they were deployed.

“We want to connect our CORRAL group with NAHERC, because if we do have an incident here, we can imagine APHIS will be involved because there would likely be a strong chance it would involve more than just Colorado. USDA will pay these responders because they’re already in the system’s roster,” Striegel said.

Lately, Striegel has been taking what he calls the next step in building out the CORRAL system. That is–meeting with leaders from the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Livestock Association and Western Dairy Association to show them the system and set up training for producers and livestock leaders with the intent of giving them more information and finding people who would like to be a part of the CORRAL responder group.

“The CORRAL system focus will now center on building our resources, specifically, the credentialing and training of more CORRAL responders, particularly in veterinary support,” said Striegel, who is considering a November date for an information session and a February time for training.

What Striegel means by veterinary support is the help of two crucial groups: brand inspectors and producers.

“Our local veterinarians are our primary local eyes and ears out in the country. They’re professionals, but we also value our Extension specialists, our brand inspectors and the producers, too. We need everyone’s help to be successful,” Striegel said.

Striegel is strongly urging producer involvement.

“Farmers and ranchers are the best people when something bad happens. You always know they’ll pitch in together to help a neighbor in the hospital to harvest their grain or help at branding time,” Striegel said.

“Getting them involved to be responders would be the best people to have. They know their local cattle and their neighbors, and they can be of great help.

To volunteer to be a CORRAL responder, contact Striegel at 303-239-4161 or e-mail him at nick.striegel@ag.state.co.us.

“If you are not yet part of our CORRAL system, please consider being involved in helping us better our livestock emergency preparedness and response capabilities in Colorado,” Striegel said.

To volunteer in other states, contact the local state veterinarian’s office.

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