A contingent of more than 150 emergency responders were trained over the weekend to handle potential agroterrorism incidents in Puerto Rico, an action that is considered a crime that could affect agriculture, vegetation and food of a community or an entire country.
The $65,000 training, paid for with U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds, is the first of its kind offered in Puerto Rico and aims to promote the creation of a plan for both the responders and the community or affected country to respond together to this type of incident.
“Our goal is to train [emergency staff] how to respond, which state and federal agency they should go to if this type of attack occurs and strategize for the result to be effective,” said Alfrida Tomey, director of the Office of Public Safety Affairs. “With this training we empower our first line of defense to face this threat to minimize public impact.”
According to Tomey, an agroterrorism incident can have a devastating effect on the community where it happens, hence the importance of knowing how to act and take the necessary precautions to limit its effect.
“Agroterrorism attacks can be accidental, but intentional and natural too. The Gulf of Mexico experienced the death of many animals in danger of extinction as a result of an accident,” Tomey said. “Intentional scenarios could include the dispersal of chemical agents and in natural scenarios, weather-related incidents and deaths from influenza.”
In an incident with animals, the first step would be to consult with the State Veterinarian or the professional in charge of them and then analyze the effect with the Departments of Health and Agriculture.
If the attack is against food, the local Department of Agriculture and Health must be notified, and eventually federal agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Puerto Rico has been blessed for years and so far we have not had to deal with emergencies like these, but scenarios represented by an agroterrorist an attack can not be ignored because they could affect thousands of people, among them public school students who have breakfast and lunch in school cafeterias,” said Heriberto Saurí, agent administrator of U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds assigned to Puerto Rico.
If an incident were to occur, its effect can cause an economic impact on health, public safety and in animals, he said.
The training was offered to staff of the State Agency for Emergency Management and Disaster Management and employees of the municipal emergency management offices, the local and federal Agriculture departments, the Courts Administration, the Environmental Quality Board, the Solid Waste Authority and a large group of volunteers.