Title: SART State Agricultural Response Team
On September 23, 2004, just three weeks after it was struck by Hurricane Frances, Florida braced itself for yet another direct hit. Bearing down with winds of 120 mph, Hurricane Jeanne was about to follow the same path as Frances: smashing into coastal communities before cutting a wide swath up through the state. Jeanne would be one of four hurricanes to hit the state in less than two months, inflicting $2 billion dollars worth of damage to Florida agriculture and stretching the state’s emergency response capabilities to the limit.
The Sunshine State is no stranger to natural disasters -- hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires have done their share of damage in Florida. With 14 seaports and over 800 airports and airfields, the state is also at risk for man-made disasters. 75 million tourists and billions of tons of freight enter Florida each year, making it vulnerable to threats like disease introduction and agroterrorism.
Responding to these disasters requires the efforts of many different people and organizations. To ensure that everyone works together effectively, Florida has organized its disaster response resources into categories called Emergency Support Functions, or ESFs. These ESFs manage and coordinate specific categories of assistance common to all disasters like transportation, communications, food and water.
Dr. Thomas Holt: The Division of Animal Industry is the lead organization for the Emergency Support Function that deals with animals and agriculture in preparing for or responding to an emergency. We do provide relief and assistance in emergencies to animal issues, really across the board.
Issues include finding shelter for animals, coordinating animal tracking and capture, even assisting growers in getting their products to market.
When disasters strike, individuals, groups and agencies throughout the community all pitch in to help. Unfortunately, while their intentions are good, these groups often act independently of each other and of the ESF structure. Poor communication among them results in confusion. Uncoordinated efforts can be ineffective or duplicative, often complicating response efforts and sometimes even impeding the emergency support functions’ overall progress.
In order to improve disaster response, Florida’s ESF for animals and agriculture created SART.
Dr. Greg Christy: SART is the State Agricultural Response Team which is a group of government agencies and private organizations that come together to plan and effectively respond for animal and agricultural issues in the State of Florida.
Tim Manning: The SART concept allows us to bring multi-resources to the table and partner with other agencies so that we can work smarter, not harder.
Organized during the hurricanes of 2004, SART initially included the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the Humane Society of the United States, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Animal Plant Health Inspections Service, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association and the Florida Animal Control Association.
Dr. Thomas Holt: Agriculture today and the animal industry today is so large and so complex here in the State of Florida that one individual agency or one group can't provide all the needed support that would be required in an emergency.
Dr. Joan Dusky: If you look at our partners, none of us has all the capabilities needed to address agriculture and animal industry situations in a disaster event. By being partners in SART we can pool our resources and we can have a coordinated effort. Rather than all of us trying to do everything, we can assign those specific individual tasks to groups that are most capable of handling those situations.
SART adopted a mission to develop an efficient, safe, and environmentally sound strategy to respond to any emergency affecting animals and agriculture in Florida. Its goal is to establish an Agricultural Response Team for each county to carry out that mission.
Dr. Greg Christy: All emergencies are a local emergency first. And the county must be prepared to respond to that emergency before state resources can come in. The County SART will be our person on the ground responding to those animal and agricultural emergencies first.
Forming a response team begins by contacting the state office through the Florida SART Web site, flsart.org and downloading the booklet “Creating a County SART Toolkit”. SART’s state office provides information on programs already in place and provides guidance and additional training materials for starting a county SART.
One of the initial considerations in forming a county SART is identifying the people and groups interested being part of the response team. The county SART coordinator will be responsible for bringing together various groups who respond to animal and agricultural-related incidents. These include emergency managers, agricultural producers, veterinarians, extension agents, animal control officials, county and city commissioners, district conservationists, agriculture-related businesses, law enforcement officers, and public health workers.
The county SART team will work in cooperation with the county emergency management director and his staff to review the county’s emergency plan. This review will focus on how the plan addresses the needs of animals and agriculture - and what specifically will be done to meet those needs in the event of a disaster.
Creating a plan is vital to the success of the county SART program. Equally important is the training of the team.
Dr. Greg Christy: Training is imperative because we have to have our people ready to respond at a moment's notice. It allows them to fine-tune their skills -- allows them to work together as a group. County SART training should involve not only animal but also agricultural issues, aquaculture issues, bioterroism awareness training, responding to natural disasters. It takes many areas, but we'd like to cover most of those major areas in our SART training.
Team members attend seminars, conferences, and other training events to learn how to effectively interact on a county, multi-county and state level. Disaster preparedness exercises are also held periodically. These help team members sharpen its response role, so when a disaster does strike, it can be an effective auxiliary to the ESF for animals and agriculture. Information about these training events, as well as lesson plans and workbooks, is also available at the SART Web site.
The ability to network with other county SART teams is a major focus of the program. Networking promotes cooperation and the exchange of information among teams. Each county team can list its available resources on the Florida SART Web site. In a time of disaster, the teams can share these resources with other teams in need, or turn to the statewide SART network for help.
The best response to any emergency is planned in advance.
Frankie Hall: The more organization you have, when that disaster hits, you don't just react, now you're reacting with some organization behind your reaction. You have a plan. And as long as you have that plan, now you know what you've got to do.
The county SART working with the county emergency management director is designed to prepare and coordinate a safe and efficient strategy. By fostering cooperation and sharing information and resources, the State Agricultural Response Team can ensure that the community is prepared to respond quickly to any disaster and mobilize for a rapid recovery.
Tim Manning: The main thrust is to protect Florida agriculture. How do we do that? We have individual missions, but SART will allow us to come together as a unified team, partnering all of our resources to timely and efficiently accomplish our goals.
For more information on starting a county SART, training opportunities, networking and resource sharing, visit the Florida SART web site at flsart.org.