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Farm Emergency Management Plan

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Emergencies can strike any time. It's important that your farm or ranch is prepared with an action plan. Check out these helpful tips and be ready.

Take a walk around your barns, sheds and storage tanks, and you’re likely to find steps that you’ve already taken to help prevent accidents. Things like emergency shut off valves, electrical disconnects and fire extinguishers all play a role in keeping your farm or ranch as safe as it can be.

Though you’ve taken important precautions to prevent small mistakes from turning into major emergencies, does your farm or ranch have an emergency plan of action in place if the need should arise?

An emergency action plan is an organized response to problems that could occur on your farm or ranch. Take a look at our guide to creating an emergency action plan that’ll help direct first responders, family members and employees to react more quickly and efficiently to emergencies that occur on your property.

Benefit From Past Emergency Management Events

If you’ve been in the business of farming or ranching for any length of time, odds are you’ve seen your share of close calls and maybe an accident or two. One important first step is to identify where and why problems have occurred in the past and look back at how your team handled the situation.

Learn from the past. Consider how previous problems were tackled. Were you all able to communicate clearly during the event? Did first responders have enough information and site-specific details to quickly contain the problem? Note down how and where emergencies occurred and review the issues that contributed to the problem.

Get the details. Write down a short description of any instances where first responders or other officials were brought on site to address a crisis. Identify the building where the problem occurred and record the facts as they happened over the course of the event. Also include details on how the emergency was resolved. Flag these locations when you make your map, and share this information with employees to prevent the mistake from happening again.

Improve your response. With time comes knowledge. Write down how you would handle the situation differently the next time around. Be as specific as possible. Let this new information help to guide you as your emergency management plan takes shape. Don’t forget to take the time to improve safety and reduce risk on your farm by reviewing these tips on understanding farming hazards and controls.

Build Your Emergency Plan From the Top Down

With insights on how to best respond to emergencies by looking at past events, it’s time to carefully think about the hotspots for trouble on your property.

Tour your acreage. Take a walk around your property and inventory all of the sites likely to pose a hazard. Write down the type of hazard, the building or site name and the kind of first responder that’ll be called into action to defend against the threat. The location of stored chemicals, pesticides, hazardous substances and combustible materials should be detailed. Consider situations like silo and bin entrapment, noxious fume exposure, and events that can effect livestock, like disease outbreaks and extreme weather events, as potential emergencies that will need a response plan. Explore other ways to help ensure that you’re keeping your farm safe.

Take inventory. Jot down details on all assets, from livestock and feed to tractors and combines. Identify medicines for the livestock and write down VINs and serial numbers for your machinery. Now you know what might happen and where, and you can create a customized plan to defend against each of these issues.

Leverage Aerial Maps to Mark Locations

Creating a map that’s clearly labeled for emergency responders can increase their response time to issues and decrease damage to your property. Here’s a few things to keep in mind as you create your emergency map.

Plot it out. Get online and print out a satellite image or map of your property. Whichever you choose, be sure that your notes and markings are clearly visible on the map so that first responders will know exactly what they’re looking at.

Identify structures and hazards. Using the list of hazards you created, number all buildings and site locations. And take a look at the ways you can protect your farm’s outbuildings and cover your structures from various types of damage.

Create a map key. On a separate piece of paper, make a key for your map. The key should contain the type of hazard, details about how to combat it and the first responder type.

Label streets, roads and egress routes. Name access routes, gates, entry and exit locations and utility cutoff locations on all buildings. Include site evacuation zones as well.

Crops and water. Identify the types of crops growing on your land, and water sources too.

Emergency Contacts and Communication

Easy access to information is key when you and your employees need to respond quickly to an unfolding event or emergency. Identifying who’s responsible to manage each emergency type can help your plan run more smoothly if something does happen.

Leverage social media. A good strategy is to create an emergency response group on a social media platform that all parties — employees, family members and first responders — have access to. This can act as a message board in the event of an emergency. Once your emergency response plan is created, you can also share the document there. The benefit in doing so is that you can amend and update the plan as circumstances change locally. Remember to include specialists that may need to be called into action, like veterinarians and chemical spill professionals.

Define roles and responsibilities. Assign employees a job to do for each emergency scenario you’ve identified above. Review these plans often and take time at meetings to go over who’s a participant in each scenario.

Take Action on Your Emergency Plan

Now you know what might happen and where, and you can create a customized plan to defend against each of these issues. Distributing your map can help aid authorities to identify the best access routes and storage sites for volatile materials. Be sure to update the map every time storage locations change and remember to share a picture of the map on your group social media page.

Contact local authorities. Invite fire chiefs and first responders to your farm so they can review your plans. They’re a great resource for fine-tuning this first draft and can offer insight into how other emergencies were handled and what worked best during previous efforts. Use that map to identify how first responders will access your property and get to the location of the emergency. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they would change your plan to make it safer and more efficient.

Relocate hazardous and explosive materials. Assess the location of where you store volatile items. Consider how close these items are to livestock and living or working spaces for family and employees. It may be necessary to move dangerous or explosive materials to reduce the threat these items pose. On the map, assign storage areas that are less likely to ignite or impact nearby structures in the event of a chemical emergency.

Map Out Evacuation Routes

Having a plan to get employees and livestock out of harm’s way should be a central part of building your plan. Consider that you may need different strategies based on the type of emergency.

Livestock evacuation and handlers. Now that you’ve settled on who’ll be doing what, be sure that your farmworkers responsible for moving animals are well versed in how to manage each type of animal on your farm. When making your selection, remember that the handler will have to know how to manage an evacuation with stressed animals, possibly in harsh weather.

Evacuation plans. Getting away safely depends on the situation. Livestock may have to be evacuated to different locations depending on the type of emergency. If toxic chemicals threaten the animals or humans, getting out of harm’s way may mean having to move upwind and away from an otherwise designated evacuation zone. Weather related events can also require different plans, too. Consider the differences in managing an evacuation due to a hail storm versus that of a wildfire.

Sheltering in place. Sometimes, the safest place to be during an emergency is right where you are. This is often the case when foul winter weather bears down quickly. Be sure to have a plan for loss of utilities and keep supplies stowed away with provisions and other necessities in those spaces where you will be taking shelter.

Regrouping after evacuation. Designate a spot where employees and others are required to meet during certain situations. This part of the plan is important when access to a cell signal is lost and further instructions will need to be handled verbally. Remember to build a plan to manage visitors on your farm during emergencies. Learn about how to protect your guests from injury by reviewing our article on keeping visitors safe on the farm.

Because you planned ahead, you and your staff can better work together, and remain confident and calm if the unexpected happens. Hopefully your emergency action plan gives you peace of mind since you’ve taken some of the stress out of a future emergency.

Another key way in which you can protect your farm or ranch is to request an American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to put you in touch with our loss and risk control resource center specialists. You’ll benefit from our expert agent’s knowledge on how to customize a policy to meet your exact needs. You’re going to find that your investments and everything else that means so much to you will be well protected and ready for anything.

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    Catalog Your Farm Implements and Farm Tools First

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    Start with the high-value items and assets on your farm like the ones listed below:

    • Tractors
    • Combines
    • Farm irrigation systems
    • Hay balers, backhoes, and wagons
    • Planters
    • Cultivators and disks
    • Herbicide and crop sprayers, as well as fertilizer and manure spreaders
    • Milking machines
    • Irrigation equipment
    • Internal combustion and electric motors
    • Water pumps and air compressors
    • Motorized post-hole diggers
    • Snow throwers and lawn mowers
    • Generators and emergency backup equipment

    Once you have the records out for the above items, dig in and locate the following:

    • Original purchase orders
    • Purchase receipts
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    • Liens or collateral documents that used the above items in order to get financing
    • State and county registration records
    • Insurance documents
    • Financing documents
    • Maintenance records

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    More importantly, farm management software can make your farm easier to run and more profitable too. Many systems are able to manage your farm’s entire business, from employee payroll to tracking crop and livestock details, to accounts payable and receivable. They’re worth considering.

    The Financial Benefits of a Farm Equipment Checklist

    With your inventory complete, you’ll be able to rapidly gain insights into which equipment is approaching the end of its usable life, and which items are in need of replacement. With non-cash expenses like inventory depreciation tracked closely, you can make informed decisions on when to sell or purchase large implements and equipment.

    Take Inventory of Your Farm Insurance

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    Enhance Your Farm's Digital Presence

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    The Importance of Understanding the Platform and Your Audience

    Before introducing your farm to the World Wide Web, you’ll want to keep these two things front of mind:

    What content are you putting on each platform?

    From your website to your e-newsletter, your customers consume and engage with every platform in different ways. So, when you start building your online presence, you’ll want to have an understanding of each platform’s purpose. That way, when your customer interacts with your business, they’re getting the information they expect.

    For instance, someone visiting your farm’s website is going to be looking for much different information than if they were on your Twitter feed. Or if a customer follows your Instagram account, they aren’t expecting the same stories as they read in your farm’s e-newsletter.

    You can build a better experience for your customers by asking yourself what mindset your reader is in when they head to each platform you create.

    Who is your audience?

    Understanding your customer is essential to the success of your digital presence. Before delivering a message effectively, you need to know who the message is going to and why. For starters, consider the kind of farm you run. Are you a commercial farm that sells your product to big businesses for distribution, or is your customer local businesses and families? The content and its tone depends on who you’re trying to reach. Who are they, what are they looking for and what’s the most authentic way you can relate to them to get them what they want? Understand their motivation by putting yourself in their shoes.

    Building a Website for Your Farm

    Now that you have a better idea of some digital basics, let’s put that knowledge into practice — starting with your website. The internet is a powerful tool to market the product(s) your farm produces, and creating a website is a key way to harness its potential. Follow these guidelines for website best practices:

    Set goals. Spontaneity has its time and place, but building a website to market your brand isn’t the situation to jump in without a plan. It’s important to set realistic, achievable goals for round one of your website. Keep in mind, your site is a work in progress and can be improved upon in many iterations. Consider what you want your website to achieve. Are you selling products? Do you offer a CSA? Do you want to educate people on agriculture? Maybe you’ll create a gallery to show images of the fun you have on your farm. Take the time to sit down and list out a few goals for round one. With your plan in place, it’ll make the next steps that much easier.

    Creating the website. You’ll need to decide if you want to hire someone to create your website or if you plan on crafting one yourself. Many sites exist that make it super easy to create and maintain your own website — and most of them are even free to use! If you choose to have someone develop a website for you, make sure it implements a content management system so you can update the site yourself. This way, you can easily keep things relevant without always having to go back to the designer (and pay them) to make changes.

    Provide a clear description of who you are. If someone stumbled upon your website, would they be able to identify who you are and the purpose of your farming business within a matter of seconds? That’s your goal — create a homepage that’ll attract and retain your customer’s attention so they’ll stay on your page. Make sure the name of your business stands out and a summary of your products and services is included.

    Clear navigation. In order to guide your customers to discover all the great things about your business, you’ll want a navigation menu with clear links that lead to your pages. A dropdown menu offers an easy way for your visitor to see all that you have to offer, no matter which page they’re on. You’ll ultimately decide which pages you want on your page, but home, about us, newsletter, calendar, contact us, links to your social media pages and other important services you offer are common pages to include on your website. Remember, your pages will align with the goals you set at the beginning.

    How to Create a Farm E-Newsletter

    No matter what type of farming you do, an e-newsletter is a simple and effective way to promote your farm. An e-newsletter is a periodic “report” with information and news about your farm and, in this case, is distributed to your subscribers via email. This form of marketing can be very effective because it’s targeted to people who have already taken interest in what you’re doing.

    So what should you know about creating an e-newsletter? Start with these three tips:

    Newsletter content. A good rule of thumb to follow is to include content that’s 90% educational and 10% promotional. Chances are the person who subscribed to your e-newsletter wants to get to know your business better and continue to stay informed — not be pushed to buy something. Providing educational, relevant information builds trust between your reader and your business. Here are some ideas for content you might include:

    • Whether you sell meat or vegetables, recipes are a fun way to mix your product with something useful to the consumer. It may even encourage a customer to buy your product.
    • Life on the farm isn’t something everyone gets to experience. Include a fun story about how your farm runs or an anecdote about your animals. This way your reader can vicariously experience farm life.
    • Is your farm open to the public? Include visiting hours, what they can expect to experience and any upcoming special events.
    • If you offer volunteer opportunities, include how to volunteer and/or a testimony from a previous volunteer.
    • Will you be at a farmer’s market or farming expo? Be sure to list anywhere you plan on appearing as vendors.
    • Reward your subscribers with a discount or coupon every now and then to show you appreciate their business.
    • Is there something unique about your farm? Let it be known!

    There’s no end to the content you can include in your newsletter, but most importantly, make sure it’s relevant and have an understanding what your reader is looking for.

    Newsletter design. A newsletter can be sent by mail, email or included on your website. Our suggestion is to send your subscribers an email as well as include a web page for your newsletters on your website. That way non-subscribers can view the newsletter and hopefully become subscribers! Here are a few things to keep in mind for the layout of your newsletter:

    • Create a header at the top of the page that includes the title of your newsletter, your company name and logo.
    • Use subheadings to organize and break up the pieces of content. A subhead should be smaller than your main heading and bigger than the text you use for your content blocks.
    • Choose a color scheme. If you have a brand logo, defer to those colors.
    • The legibility of your newsletter is very important, so stick to one or two fonts, since too many fonts can give a disorganized look.
    • Have a balance of images and text. An image grabs a reader’s attention and offers a visually appealing element to your newsletter. It can be used to break up the page so as to not overwhelm the reader with too much content.
    • Don’t create a five-page newsletter. Keep it to a page or two. The newsletter is designed to provide quick, digestible information that grabs your reader’s attention.

    Newsletter frequency. How often should you send your newsletter? Most people choose to send a weekly, monthly or quarterly newsletter. It all comes down to your own personal goals and what your business offers. If you have a lot of events happening on your farm or are very customer-focused, sending a weekly newsletter is a good idea. If you don’t think you’ll have much time to put into a weekly newsletter, go for the quarterly and make sure to spend time filling it with all the great things that have gone over the last three months. A monthly newsletter is a good, doable balance for busy farmers who need to keep their customers updated but don’t have a lot of time.

    Just remember — your newsletter is meant to attract your target audience and give them a reason to stick with you. Do what’s realistic for your business and have fun with it!

    Social Media and Your Farm

    Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — just a few social media platforms you can use to easily promote your farm. And they are pretty simple to set up and maintain! Our advice is to focus on building out your presence on one platform and slowly work your way into creating more accounts once you get the hang of marketing through social media. Here’s a closer look at some great ways you can use social media on your farm

    A thought-out, well-run digital presence can benefit your farm in many ways. With the right goals and strategy in place, you can give your farm a digital edge. Your next steps? Go dig around the Internet and do some research. What kinds of farming websites exist? What kind of information do other farms include in their e-newsletters? Start following some successful farm’s on social media. Take a look at what already exists on the web to gain ideas on what might work or not work for your own strategy.

    Remember — it’s all about knowing your audience and what they’re looking for. At the end of the day, it’s about making your customer happy.