Material presented at a Clovis workshop on agroterrorism was anything but a recipe on precise ways to foil terrorist attacks on agriculture, which is the backbone of the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley.

It was nothing like the terrorist handbook that David Goldenberg, one of the presenters displayed to participants.

Instead, it was a presentation on the alphabet soup of acronyms that figure into sorting out a terrorist attack — from the FBI to NIMS (the National Incident Management System) — and it was, above all, a call to vigilance and teamwork.

“Don’t pass out business cards over dead bodies,” said Goldenberg, acting program manager for preparedness training at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at the University of California at Davis.

Goldenberg’s point: Don’t wait until a threat has revealed itself to begin preparing for it, readying a response and getting acquainted with other likely players that will need to respond, from law enforcement to public health officials to citizen volunteers.

 

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“We’re not out to scare people, but to get them to prepare,” he said, “to have some kind of response in place as do those who respond in Hazmat situations.”

Those who attended the program, presented by the institute, included lawyers, students at the San Joaquin College of Law where it was held, a few in the agricultural industry, law enforcement and citizens out to learn more about where threats may lie.

Goldenberg and others emphasized a need to identify vulnerabilities, whether on the farm, in transportation or retail systems or at processing plants. And they said responding quickly — and with accuracy after a diagnosis — is important to cutting casualties and economic losses.

Agroterrorism is not theoretical. Speakers talked of the targeting of a laboratory at UC Davis, the destruction of tractor trailers at Harris Ranch, purposeful poisoning of salads in Oregon and hoaxes in which perpetrators sought to extort money, thereby spreading fear and economic harm.

 

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Goldenberg cited a quote by then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson in 2004: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”

He asked why Thompson would have said such a thing. “Because he’s stupid,” some said. But Goldenberg said, “Perhaps to wake up the government, industry.” He said the attacks of 911 were a wakeup call of a loss of innocence akin to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“The world was not the same,” he said.