Meet a Delegate Monday: Andy Vestal

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Dr. Andy Vestal, who will have a breakout session at the EDEN Annual Meeting. 

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN? Dr. Andy Vestal

I got involved in EDEN about a month before Hurricane Katrina, in July of 2005. I was immediately led to the effort because of a six-year grant for animal disease and homeland security response and recovery. Within a month of being in this position, Hurricane Katrina hit followed by Hurricane Rita, and we realized we had a lot to do preparedness-wise. The fall of 2005 was my first visit to the EDEN Annual Meeting in Fargo, North Dakota. It was an experience for me to see the overall mission and goals of the organization: to help people help themselves.

2. Without divulging too much of your annual meeting material, can you tell us how the strike teams were formed?

After any incident an after action report is filed. After [Hurricane] Ike the report stated there was high priority to establish mission ready teams of seasoned County Extension Agents, CEA, that were deployable. The first teams were established in the Gulf Coast, where 7 million Texans live.

3. What are some of the disasters that have affected Texas over the past few years and how have you been involved?

In 2008 when Hurricane Ike hit us it was a challenge; 32,000 families lost their homes along with a large agricultural loss. Hurricane Ike, though only a category 2 hurricane, was about 450 miles wide. It pushed an 18 foot wall of water 20 miles inland, covering mostly ranchland that had about 35,000 head of cattle. We realized that within 72 hours the cattle would have saline toxicity, because all they had to drink was salt water. We deployed our strike teams to create Livestock Supply Points, LSP’s, and from September 13 to 30 we received and distributed over 125 semi-truck loads of feed and hay. By week 3, we started shipping about 15,000 head of cattle into other parts of the state.

In 2011 every geographic region of Texas had challenges with wildfires; there were over 32,000 in the state, and dozens were 50,000 acres or greater; over 3 million acres burnt. Our Livestock Supply Points and CEA strike teams were again activated to stand up 13 LSP’s. Our goal was not to put out fires, but to help landowners with displaced livestock. We received and distributed approximately 120 semi-truck loads of hay and feed. We were much better prepared, because we had about 50 County Extension Agents that were seasoned, trained, and mission ready.

4. What has been the most rewarding thing you have done in terms of disaster preparedness for your state?

The Hurricane Ike recovery, “Operation No Fences” on YouTube shows the land and livestock owners response, along with county agents and other volunteer organizations. The support we built for them was rewarding to our county extension agents because we had farmers and ranchers that had lost everything. To find that we had a mobilized team supporting them was unexpected, but extremely helpful. We estimate we saved the USDA indemnity program more than $10 million by shipping cattle out, since it saved their lives, and it costs about $600 a head to bury cattle. Also about 80% of the cattle shipped out had brands and/or ear tags; we had brand inspectors to help identify the rightful owners. Through these efforts we were able to maintain the strong fabric of the local agricultural economy in that area.

5. Have you worked on any multi-state projects through EDEN and what have those been?

I have had two major multi-state projects through EDEN. Both were funded by the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, at Texas A&M. The goal of the first was to strengthen crisis communications. We adopted the Association for Communication Excellence, ACE, group’s curriculum called “Media Relations Made Easy.” We incorporated an animal disease issue scenario into the training and partnered with multiple land grant universities to host a series of six workshops using that curriculum. We had about 180 Ag communicators from 29 states and Canada attend.

The second project was partnering with 22 state veterinarians and extension programs to test and establish an animal health network in those states. This program is still up and running. The mission of that project was to improve upon the state veterinarian’s capability to have early detection and rapid response to animal diseases, especially in smaller, hobby farms.

6. What do you think is the most important thing EDEN delegates can do to help the citizens in their states?

Learn from other state’s experiences. There’s a lot of different material and experiences that states can learn from each other. When we learn from each other we may reinvent something we learned from Washington State to fit our state, but the fact that we have guidance is extremely valuable.

If you haven’t yet registered for 2014 EDEN Annual Meeting, follow this link to register.

 

Lessons from the Storm: Case Studies on Economic Recovery and Resilience

Today’s post is written by Megan McConville. She manages the National Association of  Development Organization (NADO) disaster recovery and resilience program. We (Rick Atterberry, Steve Cain, Abby Hostetler and Virginia White)  met Megan during a recent visit to Washington, D.C.  You can contact her at mmcconville@nado.org

Downtown Cullman, AL following 2011 tornado

In 2008, a series of storms—including Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and several tornadoes—swept across Arkansas.  Seventy-two of the state’s 75 counties were affected one or more times over the course of the year.  Only three Arkansas counties escaped Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster declarations in 2008.[i]  Hurricane Gustav made landfall as only a Category 2 storm, but it hung over the south-central United States for days and inundated the region with tremendous amounts of water.  Hurricane Ike, the third-costliest hurricane ever to make landfall in the U.S., followed just two weeks later, spawning 13 tornadoes in Arkansas over a three-day period.[ii]

As the storms subsided and the floods receded, communities were left with the daunting tasks of cleaning up and repairing damaged infrastructure.  Bridges and culverts needed replacing, roads needed resurfacing, and drainage ditches needed clearing.  What’s more, this series of natural disasters made it clear to state, regional, and local leaders that businesses are tremendously vulnerable to extreme weather.  They can suffer costly damage, be cut off from supply lines, lose sales, and experience interrupted operations.  In some cases, they may even be forced to close permanently.  When businesses and industries fail or falter, the communities they serve can feel serious impacts, ranging from the lack of access to goods and services to the loss of income and jobs.

“Ike and Gustav had huge effects on our infrastructure, our businesses, and the health of our state and regional economies,” says Renee Dycus, the executive director of the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District (SWAPDD).  “After the storms, we were getting calls from some local elected officials, but in the chaos of the recovery process, they had so little time to figure out what assistance was available and ask for it.  We would have liked to have had good baseline information to help us identify needs—especially the needs of the small businesses that play such an important role in the economy of rural Arkansas communities—and reach out proactively to local government and business partners.”[iii]

In response to this need, SWAPDD—one of Arkansas’ eight regional planning and development districts—used disaster recovery funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to develop a comprehensive database of information on the employers and infrastructure in the region.  The database will help southwest Arkansas recover from future disasters much faster and more effectively, as it establishes a baseline for the region’s economy which can be overlaid with geographic information about a disaster’s impacts—such as floods and tornado tracks—to immediately estimate the number of affected businesses and employees, identify damage, and mobilize repair and assistance efforts.  SWAPDD is also using it to identify potential federal and state funding opportunities for local partners, submit applications, request letters of support for projects, and fill out environmental review and other forms with the touch of a button.

Want to know how SWAPDD created such a great tool?  Check out the new case study series from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, titled Lessons from the Storm: Case Studies on Economic Recovery and Resilience.  The series highlights how regional development organizations have used 2008 disaster recovery funds from EDA to address the impacts of natural disasters, become more resilient to future events, and increase long-term economic competitiveness and quality of life in their regions.  SWAPDD’s story is posted there, and more case studies are coming soon.

NADO is a national membership association that provides advocacy, capacity-building, and research services for the network of over 500 regional planning and development organizations across the U.S.  Regional planning and development organizations—known locally as regional planning commissions, councils of governments, area development districts, or similar terms—play a key role in community and economic development, transportation planning, business development finance, technology and telecommunications, workforce development, GIS analysis, and other issues important to their local government partners.

Disaster recovery and resilience is a key area of work for the NADO Research Foundation and for our members.  Along with Lessons from the Storm, we are collaborating with the International Economic Development Council to provide training, technical assistance, and best practice research on economic resilience for communities and regions in the northeast and southeast that were affected by disasters during fiscal year 2011.  We have hosted several peer-to-peer workshops on disaster preparedness and recovery and have produced reports and policy briefs on topics such as integrating hazard mitigation planning, sustainable community development approaches, and economic development strategies; transportation system recovery; and frameworks for regional development organizations to use in preparing and responding to economic shocks.  Additionally, we are helping our members incorporate disaster resilience into their EDA-required Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies and other regional plans.

Severe weather and climate change have become costly and unpredictable parts of our lives.  However, local leaders can learn a lot from each other about planning for disasters during so-called “blue-sky” periods, building partnerships, pursuing non-traditional funding sources, encouraging community engagement, and seizing the abundant opportunities to build back better following an event.  By sharing stories and strategies neighbor-to-neighbor, across networks like EDEN, and through case studies and other online resources, we can be better prepared the next time the storm clouds gather.

 


[i]EDA Disaster Response and Preparedness Plan. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute for Economic Advancement. 2010. http://iea.ualr.edu/pubs/2010/10-04%20EDA_DRPP.pdf.

[ii] Hurricane Ike Impact Report. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2008. http://www.fema.gov/pdf/hazard/hurricane/2008/ike/impact_report.pdf.

[iii] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

Ag In UncertainTimes: Webinar 2 — Tax and Financial Risks Due to Drought and Disaster

A reminder of the  Ag in Uncertain Times webinar Friday December 7, 2012, 12:00 Eastern/11:00 Central/10:00 Mountain/9:00 Pacific  — Tax and Financial Risks Due to Drought and Disaster

The webinar is part of a series by the North Central Risk Management Education Center and co-hosted by the Agriculture and Applied  Economics Section (Extension Section)  and is being hosted by Montana State University Technology at this link – http://msuextensionconnect.org/aginuncertaintimes

 

The third webinar is set for January 22, 2013 and will address strategies for the coming production year with uncertain institutional, production, and market risks.

Kim Cassel         Dec 7 AgInUncertainTimes_FLYER