As a virulent influenza outbreak spreads across avian livestock in the Midwestern United States, Dr. Scott Harris, director of EHS Advisory Services for UL’s Workplace Health and Safety Division, recently was on location in Iowa, assisting the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local farmers in limiting the impact of the outbreak.
In the spirit of public-private collaboration, UL supported Dr. Harris in his role as on-the-scene deputy incident commander for a 30-day rotation. Dr. Harris was a natural choice due to his prior experience as a federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. EPA Region 6, where he managed emergency responses to the Columbia space shuttle accident and Katrina hurricane water search and rescue in New Orleans. Harris later was embedded as a planning specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Even more applicable to the bird flu disaster, his EPA experiences also provided a strong background in detection, sampling and decontamination of weaponized biological agents as part of bio-surveillance work in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security.
Since the first case of a highly pathogenic avian influenza was confirmed in Iowa April 13, the disease has affected at least 14 states, many operating under states of emergency. The outbreak has killed or required euthanization of nearly 40 million birds in Iowa alone, reportedly an estimated 40 percent of the state’s poultry population. Dr. Harris’ team supported Iowa as an integral part of the more than 2,100 experts on hand to depopulate and decontaminate affected farms and save the millions of birds that are currently uninfected.
As he worked to help save the remaining farmed poultry population during the largest avian flu outbreak in U.S. history, Dr. Harris and the USDA balanced worker safety with public safety, as his team engaged in hard, physical, emotionally challenging work. Implementing an maintaining strong biosecurity practices on all farms will be essential for protecting avian livestock once the immediate crisis recedes.
Pictured above, from left, are Dr. Scott Harris, Secretary Bill Northey from Iowa’s Department of Agriculture, and Dr. Jack Shere, associate deputy director of the USDA.