The Committee on Agriculture and Food Defense was formed in April of 2003 under the auspices of the Georgia Homeland Security Task Force and the Office of Homeland Security/Georgia Emergency Management Agency (OHS/GEMA). The Committee, formerly known as the Georgia Agroterrorism Committee, is composed of representatives from state and federal government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector.
In partnership with the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, the Committee completed the first ever agriculture vulnerability assessment. Georgia was one of only ten states in the nation to complete a statewide assessment and the only state to conduct assessments in local jurisdictions. Because of this effort, the Committee was awarded $1.6 million by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Domestic Preparedness which was channeled through the OHS/GEMA and the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
The Committee has been a national leader in agrosecurity training and developed the first Agrosecurity Awareness curriculum in the U.S. The one day course with six hours of instruction is delivered by county Cooperative Extension agents to people in the state who would likely be mobilized in the event of an agricultural emergency, such as law enforcement officers, fire fighters, EMS personnel, county and city officials, agricultural leaders, and veterinarians. Basic information about animal and plant agriculture, food systems, and the transportation infrastructure in the U.S. and in the State is given through presentation instruction. Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive hazards are discussed as well as natural disasters. The textbook Agrosecurity Awareness: Protecting Agriculture and Food is given to all participants. The Committee has a goal of training 3,000 responders across the state. For more information about training sessions in local areas, visit the website http://www.agrosecurity.uga.edu.
The Committee on Agriculture and Food Defense has also trained over 300 individuals in the Incident Command System (ICS) levels 100 and 200, and trained over 65 in ICS 300. The Committee also hosted an Executive Briefing on Agriculture and Food Defense, co-hosted by Senator Johnny Isakson and Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin, for over 125 high level government officials and agribusiness leaders.
An additional initiative of the Committee is to develop regional response capability through State Agriculture Response Teams (SARTs) corresponding to OHS/GEMA Areas. The two SARTs in the initial phase of development are SART 1 in northeastern Georgia that will focus on a poultry disease outbreak response (e.g. highly pathogenic avian influenza) and SART 7 in metro Atlanta that will focus on a food-borne outbreak. The SART composition will vary according to its focus but each will be a multidisciplinary team of members from many state and local government agencies, academic institutions, Cooperative Extension, and the private sector. SART members will be expected to train and exercise as a team, and respond to incidents that occur in their area and possibly nationwide. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Committee deployed an incident management team that helped operate the emergency animal shelter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Other accomplishments include the revision of the Emergency Support Function #11 - Agriculture and Natural Resources to be consistent with the new National Response Plan, and incorporation of agriculture and food defense into the 2006 State Strategic Plan for Terrorism Preparedness.
Future goals of the Committee are to (1) improve communication capabilities with the agriculture and food sector by developing protocols for the Homeland Security Information Network; (2) develop operational plans to support ESF 8 relative to food safety and animal sheltering; (3) provide offensive training for SART responders (e.g. Agriculture Emergency Response Training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness); (4) develop and implement procedures for personal protective equipment; and (5) test SART 1 and its multidisciplinary responses to highly pathogenic avian influenza in field conditions.