Department of Homeland Security funds agri-terrorism protection program

BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 30, 2006 – With funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), two Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members are working to protect the heartland by developing a training course that will help farmers and producers at the local level detect and prevent possible efforts to sabotage the nation's food supply.

Drs. Bill Pierson and Francois Elvinger, associate professors in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS), were recently awarded a $110, 421 grant from the University of Tennessee to aid in the development of an agricultural vulnerability assessment training course as part of a larger program funded at Tennessee by the Department of Homeland Security.

The purpose of this course is to train individuals in the agriculture industry to recognize potential threats of agro-terrorism, equip them with the knowledge of proper mitigation strategies to help lessen the effects of attacks, and hopefully prevent them from ever occurring.

The first part of the course is designed to help individuals in rural communities identify areas where they may be vulnerable to attack. For example, in dairy production, one might examine the system for raw milk delivery. Is milk being delivered from the farm to processing in sealed, locked tankers or are the containers unsecured? If it is the latter, the product can be more easily tampered with, making the company a more attractive target, according to Pierson.

When a potential problem area is detected, the next step is to methodically determine a solution. Pierson and Elvinger have specifically developed a module entitled "Identification and implementation of mitigation measures to harden targets." It addresses such topics as mechanisms of disease spread and product adulteration, biosecurity programs, incident response and business recovery plans.

Training officials in rural agricultural communities how to assess and correct their own vulnerabilities plays an important role in maintaining the nation's preparedness in the post 9/11 world, according to Pierson.

"This course allows rural communities to assess vulnerabilities and address them, thereby lessening the likelihood and impact of an attack," said Pierson. "Most importantly, it equips them to do this for themselves.”

Once the design of the course is approved by the Department of Homeland Security, pilot sessions will be conducted and evaluated before the program is released for nationwide implementation, according to Pierson. Pierson and Elvinger hope to conduct the pilot sessions this fall with 34 additional course offerings to follow in locations across the country.

While Pierson and Elvinger and other course contributors will attend many of the instructional courses, extension agents and veterinarians will also be trained to administer the course. Pierson is also hopeful that a recently submitted grant proposal designed to support web-based delivery of the course will be approved, further expanding the number of agricultural operations and communities that can benefit from the program.

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) is a two-state, three-campus professional school operated by the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Maryland at College Park. Its flagship facilities, based at Virginia Tech, include the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 40,000 animals annually. Other campuses include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, home of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. The VMRCVM annually enrolls approximately 500 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate students, is a leading biomedical and clinical research center, and provides professional continuing education services for veterinarians practicing throughout the two states. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.