Trucking associations taking first steps to prepare for bird flu

by Adam Ledlow

TORONTO, Ont. – The chances of the H5N1 strain of the avian flu hitting North American soil seems more and more likely as the disease continues to creep its way across Asia and Europe. Many trucking associations are now taking the first steps to educate and prepare the industry in the event of a pandemic.

Doug Switzer, manager, government relations with the Ontario Trucking Association, says they have been working with a consulting firm to present a seminar in early May for OTA members on business continuity planning. Switzer says when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) hit Toronto in the summer of 2003, it was a big wake-up call for the association.

“When SARS hit, we had a number of carriers that were impacted because of quarantines, but that might be a very small case compared to what might happen if we have the avian flu – a drop in the bucket,” Switzer said. “People were unprepared with SARS; they’d better be prepared when the bird flu comes.”

The OTA is looking to provide the building blocks so if the flu hits hard, carriers can continue to operate their businesses and ship emergency supplies to the people who need them. The main thing you don’t want, according to Switzer, is to wake up one morning to find the avian flu has arrived and you don’t have a plan.

“Depending on the business, some will be simple plans and some will be more complex. But at least they’ll know what they have to do,” he says.

Ron Lennox, vice-president, trade and security of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, says the CTA is currently in talks with Transport Canada to look at different regulatory issues that might prove troublesome in the event of a pandemic.

“Transport Canada has set up a group involving the trucking industry specifically, to look at some of the regulatory things that might be done in the short term should we find ourselves in a difficult situation,” Lennox said. “Things such as weight restrictions and Hours-of-Service might be (lifted or eased) in the very short term and on a temporary basis.”

Mark Skinner, a research and development analyst with the Transportation Health and Safety Association of Ontario, says the THSAO is doing a lot of cross-sharing of information between organizations. In addition to providing information links to both federal and provincial agencies on the THSAO Web site, Skinner himself recently attended a pandemic planning seminar put on by the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA). Skinner said the information was similar to what you might hear from the World Health Organization and explored possibilities for business continuity, including working from home.

“Obviously transportation is a lot different,” Skinner says. “Workers aren’t at home – they’re on the road delivering goods.”

The uniformity of the information being released from each organization is part of the progressive planning needed when dealing with a pandemic, according to Skinner.

“We don’t want to get excessive to the point where people are panicking,” Skinner says.

In addition to the six information seminars put on in March, the IAPA will also address pandemic concerns at its safety conference, Health and Safety Canada 2006, at the Toronto Convention Centre May 1-3.

South of the border, the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference of American Trucking Associations has created an Avian Flu Task Force (AFTC) to help prepare the U.S. trucking industry for the possibility of a pandemic. The AFTC, the national trade organization representing the interests of commercial transporters of agricultural commodities, food, forest products and minerals, set up the task force in response to President George W. Bush’s National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.

Fletcher Hall, executive director of the AFTC, says the main duties of the task force will be to explore different scenarios the industry may face and keep on top of federal, state, local, community and business planning initiatives, specifically with regards to the movement of agricultural goods. However, Hall says he’s confident in the strength and organization of the poultry industry and says migratory birds would pose a greater threat to spreading the disease.

“I don’t think the poultry industry is the primary concern because our industry has become so integrated, so successfully for so long, that I think we could contain an outbreak fairly easily. They really do a great job in a very integrated industry of managing these type of things. I think the migratory aspect is much more difficult to control,” Hall says. “In the U.S., every aspect of that bird’s life, from egg to frying pan, is controlled in a very integrated environment. That’s not true in other countries where you find chickens in backyards, front yards and dining rooms.”

Members of the Avian Flu Task Force have a great deal of experience with hauling poultry including Cliff Hicklin of Allen Family Foods, Seaford, Del.; Tommy Windsor of Townsend’s, Georgetown, Del.; Bob Chituras of Foster Farms, Livingstone, Calif.; Ralph Michelson of Gold ‘N Plump Poultry, Sauk Rapids, Minn.; and Scott Martin of Wenger Feeds, Rheems, Pa.

The task force will be collecting most of its information from a triumvirate of sources: the U.S. Department of Transportation for transportation aspects; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the ‘human’ side of things; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the ‘animal’ side of things. Other U.S. agencies that have had a hand in planning and preparation include the Delmarva Poultry Industry in Delaware, the National Chicken Council and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

As well, a number of individual state officials (like those in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas) have worked with trade groups and already have emergency plans in place, which includes information on transportation.

If a pandemic should hit the U.S., the Avian Flu Task force will continue to be in constant contact with the various agencies and private sector entities and provide adequate, timely information to the people who need it.

“There’s a whole human side to the issue,” Hall says. “If a pandemic happens, you may only have a 30 per cent workforce, but still have a 90 per cent demand, if not more. We’ve got to keep the transportation system moving no matter what.”

Avian flu references:

There are many Web sites dedicated to the flu pandemic: (World Health Organization) (WHO) (WHO fact sheet) (Center for Disease Control) (Public Health Agency of Canada)

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.