There are several types of emergencies that can occur on a dairy farm. Some result from the forces of nature, some involve fire and explosion, and others may involve system failures. Some emergencies involve traffic or transportation problems, and some result from the behavior of people and animals.

Professor / University of Texas School of Public Health
Hagevoort robert
Extension Dairy Specialist / New Mexico State University

Types of emergencies

Natural emergencies
Natural emergencies include floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms, snow, sleet, ice, mud slides and even dust or wildfires.

Fire and explosion
Fires and explosions can damage buildings far from the explosion site, and glass and other flying materials can inflict injury to both workers and livestock. Fires in compressed air lines can lead to explosions. Spontaneous combustion of stored, wet hay can also lead to uncontrollable fires.

System failure
There are many kinds of system failures that can create emergencies. For example, interruption of operations may create hazardous conditions such as the following: failure of temperature-limit controls can lead to runaway processes; failure of pressure-limit controls can lead to rupture of pipes, gaskets, vessels and other equipment; and sudden releases of steam, gas, fuel or hazardous chemicals can create dangers for workers. System failures may also lead to fire and explosion.


Vehicular or machinery failures
Accidents involving vehicles or farm machinery can also occur on dairy farms. Overturned tractors are the leading cause of fatalities in agriculture. ATV’s are rapidly increasing as a source of injuries and fatalities. Mechanical systems for pumping milk or manure, and rotating parlors also present risks during operation or maintenance. If there are hazardous materials in a mishap, clearing or evacuating the area may be important. Spilled materials may require proper treatment to prevent further disaster.

Behavior of people
The behavior of people can lead to emergencies. Some behaviors intend to cause harm; others do not, but have the same result. Workers can be responsible for errors leading to various emergencies.

Priorities in emergencies
There are well established priorities for emergencies, the first of which is safety of people. The people may be family members, workers, visitors or the public. Evacuation of people who could be injured and care for those injured have the highest priority. Actions to prevent involvement of additional people are also important. Isolating an area from inadvertent involvement or keeping the curious away can avoid further injury. In emergencies, evacuation routes from buildings, sites or communities must stay clear.

The second priority is protection of property. This may involve turning off power, fuel or supplies to prevent further damage. Processes may be shut down manually or automatically to render them safe or to minimize loss of materials or livestock.

The third priority is cleanup and salvage. Spilled hazardous materials must be removed to make an area safe. Fires may sometimes leave building walls standing without support, which could collapse on persons in the vicinity. Damaged equipment may be restorable with proper treatment. In removing debris or rubble, careful action will prevent further damage or injury.

The fourth priority is restoring operations and returning things to normal. For dairy farms, there are losses in income and production until operations begin again. After an emergency, the condition and safety of equipment must be checked and items must be repaired.

Analysis planning and design
The main objective in dealing with emergencies on dairy farms is to be prepared to take proper actions. The actions may involve the farm, community, state, medical and other organizations and participants. Preparedness for emergencies involves analysis to identify potential emergency situations, planning to detail the actions and participants, design to remedy physical deficiencies, training to ensure proper implementation and having prepositioned contracts or agreements for specialized equipment or personnel.

It is not a simple task to identify what natural and human-made conditions may lead to emergencies. Dairy owners and managers must brainstorm, work through operations, evaluate historical evidence from past events, involve people with experience, seek help of experts and apply other techniques to list events that lead to emergencies.

It is not enough to identify the scenarios that spawn emergencies. The situations that can result should be considered: whether there is danger to life, danger to property, or both and how severe the situation can become. The time of day or the presence of other conditions that could make things worse or less dangerous also should be taken into account. There may not be enough time or resources to plan for every potential emergency, but the more situations one is prepared for, the better. A scheme to rank situations allows one to start with those situations that could have the greatest impact on life and property or have the greatest likelihood of occurrence.

A key to emergency preparedness is planning. Plans can be strategic or tactical, general or specific. Planning should include actions, participants, authority and agreements, communication, data and information resources, supplies and equipment, locations for action teams and training procedures.

The first component of an emergency plan is what actions should be taken. The actions can be general or specific. The plan could assign responsibility for checking all areas to ensure that no one lingers. Besides evacuation, the plan may call for actions on the part of particular people to close doors, shut off power or fuel sources, or to shut down computers. The plan may call for individuals to notify local fire departments, police or nearby facilities.

For each action, there should be people to perform them. The person or group responsible for an action must be assigned to the action.

Participants must have authority when an emergency occurs. If they have authority for assigned actions during normal conditions, there is no need for additional authority. If responsibilities change from normal conditions, the authorities must be established clearly for emergency conditions.

Communication is one of the most critical components in an emergency because information flow is essential. The status of conditions during an emergency must be current because decisions must be made quickly and accurately. The more information available and the more accurate it is, the better the decisions are likely to be made.

Data and information resources
During an emergency, there is a need for key information. Not only is the status of the current situation essential, but so is data about the site, utilities, evacuation routes, road conditions, materials and equipment involved, people injured, location of resources and other elements. Decision makers need access to maps, charts, tables, databases, phone directories and other information resources.

Supplies and equipment
Emergency supplies and equipment must be available when an emergency occurs. It is usually too late to obtain the correct items after an emergency exists. Emergency plans need to identify what supplies and equipment are needed, in what quantities and at what locations. Supplies should include medical and first aid supplies, neutralizing agents for spills, and sand or salt for sleet or snow conditions.

Medical services
Any emergency planning must consider the potential for injuries to people. First aid staff and evacuation teams, rescue equipment and vehicles should be part of any emergency plan.

Training and execution
A key to making any emergency plan work is training. To attempt execution of a plan without training will probably result in failure, at least in part. Training programs should make participants in emergency responses knowledgeable about the hazards. Planners should identify clearly the knowledge, skills and abilities for each “player.” There should be training records for each participant or team, and there should be training scenarios that one can test.

Communication with local emergency responders is vital. Local EMS (fire department, disaster response, medical providers, EMT’s) should be included in planning and training. In addition to contributing expertise on potential hazards, on-site interaction will help familiarize local EMS with dairy farm operations and help better protect people, livestock and property.

Cornell University Cooperative Extension has published a Dairy and Livestock Farm Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Guide to help livestock producers prepare for and recover from an on-farm or community disaster. PD