USDA Emergency Support Function #11. Agriculture and Natural Resources organizes and coordinates federal support for the protection of the nation’s agricultural and natural and cultural resources during national emergencies. As defined in USDA Emergency Support Function (ESF) #11, USDA works during actual and potential incidents to provide nutrition assistance; respond to animal and agricultural health issues; provide technical expertise, coordination, and support of animal and agricultural emergency management; ensure the safety and defense of the nation’s supply of meat, poultry, and processed egg products; and ensure the protection of natural and cultural resources and historic properties.
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Explore This IssueJune/July 2020
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Homeland Security Presidential Directive-7 (HSPD-7). HSPD-7, entitled “Critical Infrastructure Identification, Prioritization, and Protection,” established a national policy for federal departments and agencies to identify and prioritize critical infrastructure and key resources and to protect them from terrorist attacks.
Specifically, the policy was established in light of the following points:
- Terrorists seek to destroy, incapacitate, or exploit critical infrastructure and key resources across the U.S. to threaten national security, cause mass casualties, weaken our economy, and damage public morale and confidence.
- America’s open and technologically complex society includes a wide array of critical infrastructure and key resources that are potential terrorist targets. The majority of these are owned and operated by the private sector and state or local governments. These critical infrastructures and key resources are both physical and cyber-based and span all sectors of the economy.
- Critical infrastructure and key resources provide the essential services that underpin American society. The nation possesses numerous key resources, whose exploitation or destruction by terrorists could cause catastrophic health effects or mass casualties comparable to those from the use of a weapon of mass destruction or could profoundly affect our national prestige and morale. In addition, there is critical infrastructure so vital that its incapacitation, exploitation, or destruction, through terrorist attack, could have a debilitating effect on security and economic well-being.
It is not possible to protect or eliminate the vulnerabilities in all critical infrastructures and throughout the country by implementation of fail-safe improvements in food defense. From what we have learned with COVID-19, we can make it more difficult for a wide-scale attack to succeed and can lessen the impact of any intentional attacks on our food that may occur.
NIMS. The Federal Emergency Management System released a refreshed version of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) doctrine on October 2017. NIMS provides a common, nationwide approach to enable the entire U.S. community to work together to manage all threats and hazards. NIMS is structured to apply to all incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity.
NIMS guides all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from incidents. The doctrine provides stakeholders across the whole community with the shared vocabulary, systems, and processes to successfully deliver the capabilities described in the National Preparedness System. NIMS defines operational systems, including the Incident Command System, Emergency Operations Center structures, and Multiagency Coordination Groups that guide how personnel work together during incidents. I encourage you, as food industry, government, and academic readers, to re-review these important national incident management programs as they relate to your important role in the protection of food and agriculture.
COOP. Prepandemic, businesses that possessed a disaster response and continuity of operations plan (COOP) playbook are faring far better than others in facing these uncertainties. COOP is defined in the National Continuity Policy Implementation Plan and the National Security Presidential Directive 51/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20. The model is a federal effort residing within individual executive departments and agencies to ensure that primary mission essential functions continue to be performed during a wide range of emergencies, including localized acts of nature, accidents, and technological or attack-related emergencies. Those who had no contingency planning have fared worse in this pandemic.
Preparing for the Future
So, what else can we do to learn from our COVID-19 experience and prepare for the continuing global disaster? Consider some of the following lessons, learned from this pandemic so far, that are also useful as food defense lessons:
- Whether you are faced with a natural disaster or unintentional or intentional attack on your food business, a pre-event preparedness, disaster, and COOP (i.e., resilience) plan is a business essential.
- Leadership is particularly required in crisis and is critical to formulating and implementing disaster policy and procedure in both the government and private sector.
- To maintain credibility and trustworthiness with the public, involve applied science and risk communication subject matter experts in conveying the facts to the public.
- Do not speculate on what “might be” the facts of the event when communicating with the public.
- Government mistrust generates citizen complacency in responding to a true public health threat.
- Delay in decision making adds to the severity and public health mistrust in managing the given situation.
- Clear and concise instructions must be communicated to all stakeholders in preparing for and responding to a public health emergency and must be consistently reinforced by all public officials.
- Prompt coordination and communication among specific appropriate federal, state, and local government agencies in preparedness and response are absolutely required, based upon the actual public health event.
- As in any risk assessment, predetermine the severity and criticality of high consequence threats (even with low probability of occurrence) that could take your food business down; consider preemptive actions you could take to mitigate irreparable business damage.
- What is the effect of supply chain interruptions and redistribution pathways on your ability to find materials required in manufacturing your products?
- How can you simplify your operations where there are limited available resources, including labor and raw materials, along with loss of customers?
- What additional business and operational food defense vulnerabilities might arise when normally available resources dwindle or manufacturing operations change?
- How can you quickly and creatively assist employees, customers, and suppliers using your disaster resources?
- Pre-plan for the safety and protection of your employees and their families in the event of any disaster—they are the heart of a successful sustainable business.
- How can the business help others in time of crisis?
- What reserves are available that would help the business to respond to, mitigate, and recover from a significant event (e.g., labor, cash reserves, self-insurance coverage, financial assistance, deferred payments, production scale-up, production modifications)?
- How might supply chain interruptions affect the ability of your business to sustain basic operations and elements of the contingency plan, and how might sourcing and procurement be affected?
- What front and back-office back-up communication and data storage systems are available to activate in the event of an emergency?
- If you are a significantly sized employer, make sure disaster planning and response and recovery discussions include local, state, regional, and national (federal) policy decision-makers.
Most importantly, given what we have witnessed with COVID-19 in a few short months, how should we prepare and respond to a future public health crisis involving our food supply?