Reducing the Impact of Disasters Through Education
State Information

The Role of an Extension Educator


As an Extension educator, you may play an important role in responding to a plant or crop disaster. EDEN has developed these pages to help Extension educators plan ahead and be prepared to respond.

Since Extension is a partnership of local, state and federal entities the following tips are offered as general guidelines. Specific actions of individual Extension educators/agents will be dictated by state and local laws and programs.

In a 2002 national survey, EDEN asked agricultural and horticultural producers: “To whom would you turn if you discovered a crop disease outbreak on your farm that you didn't recognize?” Eighty percent stated Extension would be their first contact. It is critical that all educators consider and discuss office/staff expectations to establish a clear understanding of defined roles. Know the role of your county/area office in a major crop disaster; consider state and county regulations and procedures. Know what you would do if you were contacted.

Educator's Role  

Fitting into existing emergency management systems

Contact your local emergency manager and learn what state emergency response and mitigation plans are in existence or being developed. These plans establish the expected actions for all levels of disaster management in your county/area. Because of Homeland Security and recent acts of Congress, many communities are developing response and mitigation plans. Consider becoming a member of your local planning team.

In some states, the Extension office often becomes a staging ground for state and federal agencies when there are no other facilities available from county or municipal resources during a disaster. Consider a memorandum of agreement between the appropriate parties when fairgrounds or other facilities may be needed. If your office is the best equipped for Internet connectivity and communications, consider whether it might be part of the emergency response operation.

BE SURE you follow the chain of command. In an emergency situation, the first responder to arrive on the scene (fireman, EMS, policeman) is in charge until another more appropriate official responds. Most state and local responders use the Incident Command System for managing crises. State and local agencies fall in line under this command. Therefore, agencies and specific individuals will have assigned roles and authorities. At the state level, the director of state emergency management or disaster operations is in charge in a Governor-declared emergency.

In the event of a plant or crop disaster, someone in the State Department of Agriculture or an area representative of APHIS will most likely be in charge. The local Food and Agricultural Committee (FAC) should meet ahead of time to discuss these procedures for animal and plant emergencies and how they relate to current emergency protocols. In many cases it will be appropriate to write these agricultural biosecurity procedures into state and local response plans.

It is very important to keep the appropriate person in your county informed about your capability and limitations, and to recognize that Extension will be contributing to a larger operation. The local emergency manager or incident commander will be giving instructions on how to proceed.

Your response contacts and resources:

Who does what? It is important for Extension educators to develop partnerships with key people in the security, policy and disaster response areas.

  • State and University Plant Diagnostic Systems – Understand the systems’ protocols for sample preparation and analysis. Should you become involved in confirming the outbreak of a crop disease, know what is expected of you.
  • Food and Agricultural Committee (FAC) – Understand your role in working with the FAC committee in your county, and its role in agricultural disaster response.
  • Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) - If they are active, find out who are members. In some cases, Extension educators may still be active or on the list to serve. More than likely, this group would welcome your expertise. Depending on the disaster, this group can bring many local resources to help address the problem. In some states, the LEPC is taking on the mantle of Citizen Corps Council.
  • Rural Health Association/Network - Take the time to know who is in charge of public health services in your community. You may want to make a phone call to let them know you can facilitate and provide education.
  • Law enforcement - Take the time to know your State Police, county sheriff and municipal law enforcement representatives and to understand their response roles.
  • Fire - Know your local representatives.
  • American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations - Find out if you have representatives in your community and learn what they have to offer.
  • County elected officials - Make sure they know the role of Extension in your county if a disaster occurs.

Who has what? When emergencies occur, Extension educators can provide contacts for supplies and services. Build inventory lists of what supplies your office has, including cell phones, laptop computers, high-speed duplicators, etc. In addition to knowing the major suppliers of goods and services, such as the local hardware store and food pantry, create a community contact sheet of available vans, trucks and people who can help in an emergency. Work with partnerships you have already established.


Informing the Publ 

Extension’s role, even when not involved directly in other response activities, is to provide educational information and facilitation for response that is timely and relevant.

The news media can be fantastic during a disaster when you need to get information to the public. Once your role is defined, you know your message(s), and it is agreed upon by the experts that the message needs to be communicated, work with the media. If you plan in advance, you can help the news media know what information you can supply before, during or after a disaster. Also consider schools, churches and shelters as a way to contact the public. Consider other methods of communication for people with disabilities, different languages and cultures (i.e. cultures of people who don’t use TV or radio as a way to be informed).


Training Opportunities for First Detectors  

EDEN has released an online course called the Plant Biosecurity Management Course.

The course is geared toward Extension educators and specialists. However, it is readily usable by agricultural and horticultural producers who have an interest or responsibility in plant biosecurity.  

The course consists of six lessons that focus on:

  • the threat of both intentional and unintentional introduction of pests and pathogens to crops;
  • how to mitigate plant biosecurity hazards and security risks to farm operations and agribusinesses;
  • how to prepare for a rapid and appropriate response to a suspected plant biosecurity problem;
  • what recovery activities to expect in the event a plant biosecurity problem is confirmed; and
  • how to reduce the impact of a biosecurity event on humans, crops, property, and the environment.

EDEN developed the course so that local Extension educators can use it to present to farmers, crop producers and agribusiness so that more people at the local level are aware of proper agricultural plant and crop biosecurity measures.


Last Updated:10/2/2009 1:52 AM

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