In an effort to protect Western Australia’s agricultural and livestock industries, preparative disease outbreak exercises have been undertaken in Bunbury.
The exercise, titled APOLLO, is a simulation of a real world outbreak using foot-and-mouth as a mock threat and rolling in 150 local, state, and federal government officers as well as livestock industry representatives.
Using real property data from farmers, facilitators in an exercise control centre manage the simulation over three days.
Executive director of bio-security and regulation Kevin Chennell is responsible for managing the eradication of diseases and pests in the state.
Mr Chennell said the three day exercise was designed to test their rapid response team and gather information on how efficiently the problem could be handled.
“Detection of foot-and-mouth disease in WA would not only affect trade, but there would be flow on effects to communities including job losses, closures of businesses and social and mental health stress,” he said.
“It’s highly likely tourism would also be affected.”
He also said the last exercise like this was held 10 year ago and it was long overdue.
“This exercise will help us test our IT systems and will also see if are able to come up with a disposable plan for the animals infected with foot-and-mouth,” he said.
“The slaughter and disposal issues are key to managing an outbreak.
“The odds of an outbreak of avian flu are much more likely but if there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth the results would be more devastating.”
Mr Chennell also said were an outbreak to occur they would manage it in much the same way they manage a bushfire.
“We would have the same chain of command as a bushfire and we would try and set up a zone to stop the spread of disease, so there would be no travelling in the area without special permission.”
Mr Chennell has been involved in supporting the Esperance and Waroona bushfires as well as eradicating an outbreak of QFly in Perth, a situation he said was handled in 14 weeks.
“We have 150 people working here during this exercise and while this mock outbreak is only three days, in a real life scenario, there would be 700 people working and at the levels we’re using for this trial, it would take three to six months to control,” he said.
Mr Chennell said once the operation is complete the department of agriculture and food would review the findings to identify what they need to learn as an organisation, what needs to change and where to focus training.
The Australian bureau of agricultural resources economics and sciences estimates a large scale foot-and-mouth outbreak across a number of states would cost the Australian economy up to $52 billion over 10 years.
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