Every farm should have a disaster plan to protect assets from natural disasters and other emergencies, said a Purdue Extension disaster communication specialist.

Producers should also develop a disaster plan as a way to find potential problems that could prove to be costly in the event of an on-farm emergency, said Steve Cain, who also serves as the homeland security project director for the Extension Disaster Education Network.

Find risks ahead of disasters

"Creating a plan helps producers find risks they may have overlooked or not thought about," he said.

Disaster planning starts with identifying high on-farm risks and acknowledging past emergencies. In Indiana, the most common natural disasters are floods, straight-line winds, fires and winter storms.

Crop insurance can be one of the best ways to protect income if field crops become damaged. Farm disaster planning should include an analysis to determine if crop insurance is best for a particular farm. Cain also recommends that producers take risk mitigation steps, such as buying a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, labeling all truck and equipment keys, resolving electrical issues and cataloging assets that could be damaged.

Farmers should back up computers and use off-site storage for electronic and hard copy records that are irreplaceable and easily protected but often forgotten. Cain suggests inviting emergency personnel to visit farm properties and help determine major risks. For example, this might help firefighters understand how to respond to a fire at a specific farm.

"If there is a fire near chemicals, it may be better to let it burn out rather than using water," Cain said. "Thinking through these steps before an emergency can help farmers avoid the environmental issues with chemicals getting into the groundwater."

Review plans annually

Once in place, disaster plans should be reviewed and exercised at least once a year.

"It does not have to be an elaborate exercise," Cain said. "Just ask questions about who is going to execute certain tasks. When disaster strikes, it won't be the plan that saves lives and money, it will be the thought process and experienced gains knowing the plan."

The hardest part about creating a disaster plan can be taking the time to write it down, but two Purdue Extension publications can help.

"Plan Today for Tomorrow's Flood" is a flood response plan for agricultural retailers but which farmers also can use. "Rural Security Planning" is designed to protect family, friends and farms in the event of an emergency. Both publications are available for free download from Purdue Extension at The Education Store at https://mdc.itap.purdue.edu/. Hard copies are available for $1 each.

"Using the publications and common sense, a producer can have a farm-ready emergency plan in about three hours," Cain said.