COLLEGE STATION - Agricultural experts with Texas Cooperative Extension have created a process to help local jurisdictions across the nation assess the vulnerability of the food supply for terrorist attacks.
The assessment guideline has gone forward to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Justice, which are expected to recommend its implementation nationwide, according to John Guido, National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center program director.
The training center, an agency of the Texas Engineering Extension Service, would assume responsibility for training localities across the nation on how to use the process.
"This assessment tool will be the national model used by officials in local communities to help determine possible targets for terrorist attacks on agriculture," Guido said. "It aims at protecting the food supply and the inputs used for agriculture production."
Guido said the national assessment process was ongoing prior to the Sept. 11 attacks but rural vulnerability - thus the U.S. food supply - was only partially considered until recently.
Extension experts were assembled after a meeting with Texas A&M University's Institute for Countermeasures against Agricultural Bioterrorism revealed the high level of potential vulnerabilities in rural areas. The team included Extension specialists from crops, animal science, veterinary medicine, plant pathology, wildlife and fisheries, and communications.
"The gist of what we have been saying is that in a fully developed plan for agriculture, we have to link the planning as well as the response for livestock and crops to the broader emergency response for communities and families," said Dr. Neville Clarke, institute director. "And linking these two - agriculture and emergency response - has given us the ability to provide the training necessary to assure that these vulnerable spots are protected to the extent possible."
The vastness of the U.S. agriculture industry poses a challenge for protection against attacks, Guido noted.
But using the process to determine a jurisdiction's most vulnerable site, Guido said, will lead to planning scenarios so that local officials can evaluate their capability to respond and identify needs for additional planning, training and equipment.
"The group focused on identifying those critical nodes in the production process that might be most susceptible, rather than the effects that a particular event would cause," Guido said. "The intent is that local authorities could use the process to assess what is in their jurisdictions so that they would be more aware of what to watch for and therefore more likely to prevent an act of terrorism from taking place."
Guido said the model identifies production processes for the various agricultural industries and uses existing quality assurance and risk analyses to identify critical nodes in the process. Those nodes then are assessed by measuring relative vulnerability to attack. The agricultural vulnerability assessment is comparable to U.S. Department of Justice urban vulnerability assessment process currently in use throughout country, Guido said.
He said the process is expected to be implemented beginning in 2003.