An earthquake centered in Virginia shakes the mid-Atlantic region. Hurricane Irene causes severe flooding and widespread power outages up and down the Eastern Seaboard. If these recent natural disasters aren't enough to convince people that emergency preparedness is important, then perhaps nothing will. And being ready for disasters means special planning for agricultural producers, suggests a specialist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"If anything positive came out of the Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene, it's that those events provided a 'teachable moment' that we hope can raise awareness about the need for readiness," said David Filson, Penn State Extension state program leader for emergency readiness and rural health and safety.

Filson said these disasters came just before National Preparedness Month, an annual September observance led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "We use Preparedness Month to encourage people -- and particularly ag producers -- to take stock of their homes and farm operations and prepare for the kinds of scenarios that many folks currently are dealing with in the eastern United States," he said.

Filson pointed out that events such as fires, floods, feed contamination and animal disease outbreaks can come without warning. But he said extension professionals from across the country have developed an educational tool to help farmers and ranchers prepare for such contingencies.

Called "ReadyAG -- Disaster and Defense Preparedness for Production Agriculture," the program can help producers prepare to prevent, mitigate, respond to and recover from all types of damaging incidents. "ReadyAG is designed to help identify vulnerabilities and prioritize actions to make agricultural operations more resilient and sustainable in the face of adversity," Filson said.

ReadyAG begins with a general preparedness assessment, followed by commodity-specific sections including cattle, crops, dairy, fruit and vegetable, swine and poultry. The assessments can be completed online and will automatically populate a customized action plan to address items identified as vulnerabilities for which mitigation is a high priority.

Farmers who access the ReadyAG workbook will be encouraged to take the following steps:

-- Identify vulnerable areas of production and management
-- Prioritize areas to strengthen
-- Create an action plan specific for an operation
-- Develop an accurate inventory of assets
-- Identify and engage local critical services
-- Find additional helpful resources

The ReadyAG workbook can be found at http://readyag.psu.edu/ online.

The project was funded by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Special Needs grant. Extension faculty and staff from Penn State, Cornell University, Oklahoma State University, Rutgers University, University of Vermont, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and University of Maryland contributed to the development of the ReadyAG assessment.

More information about preparing for and responding to disasters and emergencies can be found at the Pennsylvania Extension Disaster Education Network website at http://extension.psu.edu/prepare.