Of the many tragedies caused by a chain of powerful tornados that swept though eastern Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel and west Tennessee on April 2, 2006, little has been said about the effect of the high winds on livestock.

Animals not killed in the initial storm often wandered off when fences were destroyed — some onto highways to be killed or maimed in accidents, or euthanized because there was no way to contain them.

Today, the region is much more prepared to handle the aftermath of such a disaster, thanks to a program implemented by the Department of Homeland Security called the Urban Areas Security Initiative.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, six counties in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi were identified by the department as one of 50 urban areas in the United States which it believes is more at risk for possible terrorist attacks than others. Urban areas around New Orleans and Baton Rouge are also included in the initiative.

In August 2003, David Newbill with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Mike Dennison, Extension agent and county director, Shelby County, were asked to serve on a working group to help identify the threats and vulnerabilities in this urban area, with the help of local Farm Service Agency personnel, the Farm Bureau, Natural Resources Conservation Service, cattle producers and others.

“Initially, we wanted to respond to either a plant or an animal disaster,” Dennison said. “As our concept became more defined and the Department of Agriculture became more involved, we basically changed our focus to animals only.”

The Memphis urban area includes the counties of Tipton, Shelby, Fayette, Lauderdale in Tennessee, Crittenden County in Arkansas and Desoto County Mississippi.

“The first year, the area received $6 million, split between fire, police and health, medical and other. Agriculture fit in the latter category. The last couple of months of 2003, we put together equipment lists.”

In 2006, the initiative was expanded to include natural as well as man-made disasters. Homeland Security stated on its Web site, “Drawing on lessons learned from the past hurricane season and concerns over the risk of a pandemic flu outbreak, the range of activities has been expanded to include catastrophic events, provided that these events also build capabilities that relate to terrorism.”

Disaster equipment arrived in July of this year and included portable corrals for livestock for capturing escaped animals, a cattle trailer, four-wheelers and a cargo trailer full of items which could be used in a disaster including face masks, hard hats, pressure washer, a generator, an equine sling and a log chain.

The six counties are putting together disaster animal response teams consisting of volunteers who will respond in case of a disaster. Currently in Shelby County, 80 people have gone through the training to serve on a DART.

“We also have funds set aside for dogs and cats, for rabies shots,” Dennison said. “The initiative is also set up to inject microchips free of charge, to help identify animals and get them reunited with their owners.”

Agricenter International in Memphis recently hosted an event showcasing the newly arrived equipment, noted Dennison. “One of the best things about it was that it let fire and police personnel know that agriculture has response teams and equipment ready to go in case of an emergency. We've already been approached by representatives from the Memphis and Shelby County fire departments who want some of their personnel to go through the credentialing process.”

All of the equipment for Shelby County is stored at Agricenter International at the Showplace Arena. “We hope nothing happens, but the reason we have it is in case something does.”

If you want to report a disaster situation involving animals, always call your local Emergency Management Agency first, Dennison noted. “They have a list of people they know to call in case of an emergency. If it's a (human) life-threatening situation, call 911. The team is also equipped to quarantine an animal or animals in case of a disease outbreak.”

EMS contacts and phone numbers for the four counties in Tennessee are: Fayette, B.J. Bartholomew, 901-465-5239; Lauderdale, Jim Jarrett, 731-635-3243; Tipton, Trish Miller, 901-476-0222; Shelby, Claude Talford, 902-458-1515. Call Tim Curtis, 662-429-1359, for Desoto County, Miss.; and Ronnie Rogers, 501-730-9750, for Crittenden County, Ark.