Connecting Cooperative Extension Service personnel in each state following a disaster is the goal of LSU AgCenter disaster specialist Pat Skinner.
Since 1998, Skinner has been charged with hosting the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) website, which is used by Extension agents across the country to share information and resources before, during and after a disaster, including hurricanes, drought, West Nile virus, floods and swine flu.
The USDA’s Food and Ag Defense Initiative recently awarded $107,000 to the AgCenter to cover the cost of maintaining the site for 2013. These grants are consistently around $100,000 each year.
“EDEN was organized as a regional network to help deal with the aftermath of the 1993 floods on the Upper Mississippi River,” Skinner said.
After the floods, the USDA began providing funds through EDEN for other disasters, she said. During the first five years, EDEN focused primarily on the northeast region of the country. “But by the late 1990s, the decision was made to open up the program to the rest of the country.”
The mission of EDEN is to reduce the impact of disasters through the dissemination of research-based educational information.
“The website has information and links to more information to use during disaster situations. EDEN does not deploy to disaster sites, but we make communication easier.”
The system allows EDEN members to determine the needs in an area affected by disaster and then provide whatever resources are needed.
“When a disaster strikes, we will generally convene a conference call or do some type of outreach to extension personnel in the affected states.”
Skinner provides an example of Kentucky tornadoes a few years ago. A lot of states had information on managing the tornado response, but none had volunteer management information. In this situation, farmers were interested in using volunteers to clean up pastures full of debris, which was causing problems for cattle.
“This was an opportunity for Kentucky to develop a volunteer management plan and to share it through EDEN with others who may run into a similar problem,” Skinner said.