New Mexico first responders prepare for agricultural emergencies

First responders from New Mexico and more than a dozen other states are participating in a week-long exercise at the Socorro County Fairgrounds to prepare for agriculture-based emergencies.

The exercise, which began on Monday and runs through Saturday, brings together and tests the coordination of local first responders, in addition to representatives from the private sector, federal government and state government. More than 200 individuals plan to participate in the exercise, El Defensor Chieftain reports.

Both the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture are deeply involved as part of the simulation.

"On a national level, New Mexico is often held up as an example of a state that is well prepared for the type of events that could knock out critical infrastructure like roads and communications equipment," Greg Myers, the cabinet secretary of the DHSEM, said, according to El Defensor Chieftain. "These types of exercises help prepare responders and emergency managers to perform their best in real life situations."

Fred Hollis, the emergency management coordinator for Socorro County, said the exercise involves cascading events. Cascading events are incidents arising from an initial occurrence, making the incident more difficult to respond to.

"Cascading events require not only more responders, but a broader range of expertise." Hollis said, according to El Defensor Chieftain. "For example, the exercise could start out with a weather-related event, then close highways, which could cause a chemical spill, which could mean cows stranded in cattle trucks, which could affect milk production, which could affect local restaurants, and so on."

Hollis said that while this type of broad exercise has not been done in New Mexico, the training will help first responders to pinpoint any response weaknesses, El Defensor Chieftain reports.

Kelly Hamilton, the co-director of the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at New Mexico State University, said it is important to train for a crisis before one occurs.

"We hope we never have to apply this training in reality, but staying prepared is what helps minimize problems and even save lives when crisis situations really do happen," Hamilton said, according to El Defensor Chieftain.