The Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association (PFMA) and Pennsylvania Convenience Store Council (PCSC) have partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) to create Emergency Preparedness and Response Guidance for wholesale distributors and retail food merchants that can be leveraged during times of emergency.
This guidance establishes a foundation upon which Pennsylvania’s food distribution network and PDA, as well as the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) can build an ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship. This state-level initiative assists with on-going efforts between the private food sector and county and local emergency authorities.
In times of emergency, supplies such as rapidly distributable food, over-the-counter drugs and pharmaceuticals, as well as other consumer products, are critical, and depending on the scope of the emergency, can also be in short supply. Keeping critical distribution systems moving in an emergency maintains stability, public health and confidence for the state’s 12 million residents.
“We wanted to have our members know who to contact in terms of emergencies,” Randy St. John, senior vice president of association services for PFMA told CSD. “We wanted to tighten our visibility with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and with the Department of Transportation and PEMA. It’s important for both food and fuel to be delivered in times of emergency, and as they developed plans for emergency preparedness, we felt it was important for PFMA to have a seat of prominence at the table.”
This guidance explains “how the c-store and grocery markets are going to communicate with the state in times of emergency, whether it be in the event of bioterrorism, or bad weather conditions or natural disasters. Disasters are a local issue, so we need to know how to communicate on a local level for when disasters occur,” St. John noted.
PFMA is currently getting the word out to local food retailers about the guidance through its monthly newsletters and email communication.
The guidance is especially timely as food safety is an increasing concern among c-stores, grocery stores and restaurants. In recent years instances of foods such as tainted spinach, tomatoes and peanut butter in various states have made headlines. And on Dec. 21, the CBS Evening News reported that the Department of Homeland Security believes al Qaeda’s next planned attack on U.S. soil could involve an attempt to poison food at hotels and restaurants.
In April 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture began the process of drafting the document. The Emergency Preparedness and Response Guidance for Pennsylvania’s food retailers and wholesale distributors was approved for dissemination in November.
“When disaster strikes, the food system is often impacted, therefore partnerships built before a disaster strikes are key to the state’s short and long-term response and recovery and PDA’s work on this project was essential in creating the guidance,” St. John said.
When crafting its guidance, the associations also looked to the New Jersey Food Council, which approved its emergency preparedness guidance earlier in 2010.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Preparedness and Response Guidance details the appropriate processes, procedures and communication protocols that the state can use to integrate the private food distribution sector into a coordinated all-hazards emergency response plan by:
Utilizing procedures and communication protocols to support real-time, two-way sharing of situational awareness and incident management between the private food distribution sector and state government during an incident of state or national significance. Situational awareness may include but is not limited to: power outage projections; major road closure information; critical weather service alerts; and general two-way coordination; Streamlining paperwork for calls for emergency assistance and Hours of Service (HoS) waivers; and Conducting coordinated response plan training with private food sector, emergency response and sector specific agencies at the state, county and local levels and more.
The Emergency Preparedness and Response Guidance is available to any food retailer or distributor in Pennsylvania. The guidance is not limited to the PFMA and PCSC membership. To request copies of the guidance and to get involved in the two-way communication network, please contact Annette Knapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.