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Midwest Ag conference opens two-day run

Elyane Saejung, University of Nebraska Medical Center Emergency Management Director addressed the Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health conference conference gathering Monday in Marshalltown. Facilitator Courtney Long and panelists Linda Emanuel and Clarissa Thompson look on.

With a theme of Reframe, Refocus and Rebuild, the Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health conference opened for a two-day run hosted by Iowa Valley Continuing Education in Marshalltown on Wednesday.

According to Brandi Janssen, director of the Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, the goal of the conference is to bring people who are concerned about health and safety in agriculture together in one room to hear about the work being done that is helping keep workers in the agricultural field safe in the Midwest.

“This year we are partnering with the Iowa Rural Health Association to have a joint conference because agricultural safety is not just on the farm but also in our rural communities as well,” Janssen said. “Agriculture still amounts to about one-third of the occupational fatalities in the state of Iowa – more than any other industry so the need for conferences such as this are definitely there.”

Janssen said the conference focuses on safety and engineering solutions as well as mental health, stress and wellness practices. Also discussed were steps to disaster preparedness and recovery procedures, and she said this was especially good to have the conference here after the community just experienced the tornado of 2018.

“We thought we could learn a lot from the local stories here to help us all go back to our communities and be better prepared for things such as tornadoes, floods and any number of disasters that could happen at any time,” she said.

Attendees gather around some of the exhibitor tables where handouts and fact sheets are available.

The Wednesday keynote panel spoke on Health and Safety Impacts of Emergencies and Disasters. Members of the panel were facilitator Courtney Long, ISU Extension and Outreach Food Systems manager, consumer Economic Development; Linda Emanuel, registered nurse; Elyane Saejung, director of emergency management for the University of Nebraska Medical Center; and Clarrisa Thompson with Mid Iowa Community Action in Marshalltown.

Nebraska example

Emanuel spoke about the cyclone that struck Nebraska earlier this year and showed slides of how the rains forced her community of North Bend to evacuate. She showed how things were carried out with no previous formal disaster training.

“A shared table is a shared life,” she said. “Conversations are so important when information has to get out.”

Emanuael shared tips of coping, what to wear when dealing with mold damage cleanup, and risk factors that accompany recovery efforts. Saejung shared about the serious flooding in Nebraska and response and public health recovery from the standpoint of an emergency management coordinator. Life safety issues, road conditions and situational awareness were factors that went into response time. She also listed several types of spontaneous volunteers:

• Helpers – those trained to help

• Returnees – those who return to help after experiencing disaster before

• Anxious – those checking on relatives, etc.

• Curious – those just wanting to see what is going on

• Fans or spectators – onlookers

• Exploiters – those trying to profit at others expense.

“Donation management must meet a need, fill a gap and be helpful. Otherwise don’t make any,” she said.

Thompson said that after the Marshalltown tornado MICA knew that it had to go big to help. So they began working with the Marshalltown School District to use the high school gym as a disaster command center. She spoke of how important communication was in determining what was and was not going to be funded and just how many families were going to need help.

“We know things were going to have to be purchased through procurement agencies and Hy-Vee and JC Penney were awesome partners for us,” Thompson said. “But to the families involved $3,000 does not go very far.”

A question and answer time included comments on collaboration, climate change, networking and data.

“I am so happy to have all of the exhibitors here as well. There is so much to see and learn about from them along with the many handouts to pick up and read more about their work,” Janssen said.