When the Hurricane Hits: Are You Prepared?

In North Carolina, there are three seasons: winter, summer and hurricane season, said Emily Byers, DVM, with Prestage Farms. Although this may not be exactly true, it is a reality that pig farmers in this part of the country face. In the past 20 years, North Carolina pig farmers have seen about 20 hurricanes.

The good thing (if there is such a thing with a hurricane), is that you know it’s coming, Byers told attendees at the 2019 Leman Swine Conference.

What is the key to success when dealing with hurricanes and flooding? Emergency preparedness and preparation, Byers said.

Despite devastating hurricanes and historic flooding that have resulted in billions of dollars of damage to North Carolina in recent years, 98% of hog lagoons experienced minimal impact and swine mortality losses were limited. Byers credits this major success to North Carolina’s pork industry and its ability to “operate while wounded” and return to normal as quickly as possible.

Before the Hurricane Hits
Typically, hurricanes allow for a timeline of expectations. 

“When a hurricane is brewing, every hog farmer, veterinarian and production specialist becomes a meteorologist looking at these diagrams and computer-generated models,” she says. “After a while, you can get a pretty good idea of where the storm is going.”

Byers shared a checklist for pig farmers to use before a hurricane strikes.

1.    Haul “butt” – consider evacuating at-risk farms or send hogs to market early
2.    Haul feed, supplies and semen
3.    Finalize lagoon management efforts
4.    Test and run generators again
5.    Check alarm systems (again)
6.    Ensure fuel supplies (tractor and generator)
7.    Stage heavy equipment and fuel trailers (day before)
8.    Initiate Emergency Operations Center/Incident Command System discussions within the operation 
9.    Test mapping/communication systems
10.    Communicate “Hurricane Mode” plan to farms
11.    Practice pro-active communications/media outreach (NCPC)
12.    Review mortality management plans, contact landfills
13.    Secure/renew disaster re-entry permits
14.    Secure IT servers
15.    Make communication plans for cellular/internet outages

Initiate Hurricane Mode
When the hurricane is coming, it’s time to initiate Hurricane Mode, Byers said. She suggests the following steps to remember when the storm approaches landfall but points out this is not an all-inclusive list.
1.    Fill all service vehicles with gas
2.    Secure loose items around buildings
3.    Lower chutes to ground and tie down feed bin lids
4.    Set all photohelic controls on "manual open"
5.    Remove door charts and farrowing cards form barns
6.    Lower all curtains
7.    Remove/secure fan louvers
8.    Tie/secure fan blades
9.    Cut off valves at LPC gas
10.    Remove cool cell pads and tie open doors and baffles
11.    Cut feed off to empty feeders prior to storm and prevent damage to feed systems caused by wet feed
12.    Prepare to ration feed if needed

Finally, Byers said Prestage Farms’ policy is to evacuate farm staff and not allow anyone to return until the designated return time for the safety of their employees. 

Stop all hauling too, she advises. There should be no driving in the dark during a hurricane or flooding.  

“Incident command is extremely important during disasters,” she said. “You need key people in place to make decisions.”

After the Storm
When the storm has passed and as soon as it’s safe, return to the farm and assess the situation. She advises following these critical steps during response mode after the storm.

1.    Report farm and road statuses to internal ICS
2.    Report company statuses/needs to Ag-EOC
3.    Deliver feed/supplies by whatever means necessary
4.    Begin essential repairs and perform essential production tasks
5.    Manage mortality if necessary
6.    Start “un-doing” Hurricane Mode if able
7.    Compartmentalize – return to normal production as soon as possible in all areas able to do so

“Every day a plant is down costs you at least three days everywhere else in the system,” Byers said. “Business must continue.”

Remember, hurricanes are a humanitarian crisis, she added. From physical exhaustion to personal property damage, and from social media attacks to the emotional toll, it’s likely employees will be suffering too. 

“Relationships are key during these disasters,” Byers said. “Help each other. When a disaster strikes, you need all hands on deck. There’s no room for ‘that’s not my job.’”

Click the "pop out" option below for a downloadable PDF of the before, during and after checklists.

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