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Extension specialist begins to build framework for livestock disaster response

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

After a number of traffic accidents in North Dakota involving livestock, Lisa Pederson set to work creating a bovine emergency response plan (BERP).

“It is a framework that local law enforcement, first responders, emergency management and state veterinarians can use to more appropriately address accidents involving cattle that are being transported,” explains Pederson, beef quality assurance specialist with North Dakota State University Extension Service.


The first objective of the project was to develop the framework, identify educational materials and curriculum and find logistics to create an emergency response plan.

“All $20,000 that we initially received to fund this project came from the beef checkoff and a small USDA National Institute of Food Agriculture special needs grant,” Pederson says.

Starting with a document used by the Ontario, Canada Farm Animal Welfare Council, Pederson and her team began to build a protocol.

“We developed a plan with 10 sections dedicated to a dispatcher decision tree. When a call comes in and says there is a cattle truck rolled over, the dispatcher has some decision tree questions that they can ask,” she explains.

These questions are similar to what a dispatcher would ask in any other emergency, such as a car wreck, to assess the situation for responders who arrive on the scene.

Disaster concerns

“A big issue is security and containment. Especially when non-ag people arrive on the scene, the first thing they want to do is save everything that is on the trucks. They never think about putting up a pen up to keep the animals at the scene so they are not on the highway getting hit,” Pederson comments.

Humane animal euthanasia, steps to preserve trucks that are still salvageable and handling deceased animals are also important aspects of an accident scene that responders may not be familiar with.

“Something that we learned from our first responders is that we also need some debriefing to help get through this. It is probably going to be traumatic, and we’re going to see loss of life, usually of livestock and, oftentimes, loss of life or injury to drivers. That is traumatic for people,” she continues.

Emergency contact

An emergency contact list is also something that the BERP team has been working on.

“The emergency contact sheet helps first responders have some idea about who they are gong to call first. A lot of time in small communities, the first responders’ names are on this list, but when we are in a panic and a hurry, we might not think about who is going to bring the panels or where can we take the cattle,” Pederson remarks.

As the program continues to grow, Pederson and her team hope to develop educational materials that can be shared with dispatchers and first responders throughout the country.

To demonstrate rescue protocol, she says, “One of our dreams is to have a potbelly and gooseneck trailer that we can take around the country to demolish and put back together.”

Future growth

They also hope to create regional networks of vet school personnel who can be on-call to assist first responders with making decisions about injured livestock.

“If someone calls 911 today and they speak Swahili, dispatch will patch them into a language line where there is somebody who speaks Swahili to translate. It would be a similar concept,” mentions Pederson.

Although the BERP program is still relatively small, Pederson and her team hope to expand it and implement it throughout the country.

“First responders do not speak livestock. They work in a world that is different than ours,” she says, adding that effective communication is imperative.

The goal, she emphasizes, is addressing potential problems before they arise.

“An accident scene is not the place to build a team. A little preparedness will go a long way, and it certainly is the first defense,” remarks Pederson.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at

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