The recent 2006 meeting of the American Association of Avian Pathologists devoted an entire session to the lessons learned following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf States of the USA on August 29th 2005.
Although the Mississippi poultry industry had developed contingency plans prior to the event, it was obvious that the extent of destruction and disruption of operations far exceeded the response program. Interpreting the comments and experiences of three major Mississippi integrators confirms the need for realistic planning for catastrophic events including floods, hurricanes, or other events which impact power generation, communications and transport.
The safety of employees is the principal concern with any catastrophe. Communicating warnings of an imminent disaster and ensuring that there are safe refuges available should be arranged. In the Midwest of the USA where tornadoes occur, reinforced underground shelters and evacuation procedures are integral to operation. In areas which may be subjected to infrequent seasonal hurricanes and flooding, contingency planning may not reflect the potential risk of injury or death.
It is critical to establish a command and communications capability to receive information and to allocate resources following disasters. This is equally important in the immediate aftermath of a weather-related catastrophe and during the recovery phase. Experience in Mississippi showed that disruption of the electrical supply grid presented the greatest challenge. Although hatcheries and individual farms were equipped with standby emergency generators, in many cases only an inadequate 24-hour supply of fuel was available. This resulted in the need to empty incubators and to dispose of chicks. In some cases, failure to maintain stand-by generators resulted in malfunction on farms. Failure to activate fans and electric pumps to supply water to flocks resulted in mortality.
Following any large-scale catastrophe, re-activation of processing plants and feed mills should be a priority. It is critical to rapidly deplete mature flocks which may have been deprived of feed or housed in damaged buildings with saturated litter.
Allocating available resources to prioritize and repair critical structures and installations is an essential component of recovery. Re-activation of transport fleets to carry feed, live birds and repair teams and restoring access to farms will speed recovery and minimize consequential losses.
Supplies including tarpaulins, plywood sheeting, plastic piping and electric cables should be sourced in advance of a disaster. It is necessary to designate personnel from other integrations or poultry producing areas to be transferred to an affected region to assist with repairs.
Contingency plans should be reviewed after any emergency to ensure relevance and accuracy. Most of the programs in place prior to Katrina were shown to be defective. It was a unanimous conclusion of the various presenters at the AAAP meeting that the lessons learned in 2005 will ensure a coordinated and effective response to future disasters. The principle of applying the sequence of planning, implementation and review, as applied to any management situation, is applicable to catastrophic events.
By: Simon Shane