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10. Contingency plans

“A number of diseases are regarded as posing a potential threat to aquaculture as well as to wild stocks of aquatic animals world-wide. The introduction of such diseases into countries recognised to be free from these diseases or into countries with an established control system and eradication programme for such diseases, may result in significant losses. In order to diminish such losses, the Veterinary Administration or other Competent Authority responsible for aquatic animal health may need to act quickly and should develop contingency plan(s) before such events occur.” (OIE, 2004).

An aquatic animal disease contingency plan is a documented work plan designed to ensure that all needed actions, requirements and resources are provided in order to eradicate or bring under control outbreaks of infectious diseases of significance to aquatic animal productivity and/or market access. Efforts should concentrate on specific, high-priority emergency diseases, with a series of generic plans focused on activities or programmes shared by the various specific disease contingency plans (e.g. national and local disease control centers). Effective contingency plans need stable resources and financial support, along with legislative backing for all control actions (access to sites, animals, fishery closure enforcement, etc.). The contingency plans need to be reviewed and agreed upon in advance by all major stakeholders, including the political and bureaucratic arms of government and the private sector, particularly representative farmer, fishery and community organizations that have a stake in the resources falling under contingency plan protection. This must include consideration of “collateral damage”to sympatric species (species sharing the same waters as known naïve resources), as these are increasingly subject to inclusion as “potential susceptible species”(i.e. carriers) under international standards (OIE, 2004).

Contingency plans should be refined on a regular basis through simulation exercises and personnel should be trained in their individual roles and responsibilities. The frequency of such revisions should be determined by the rate of development of vulnerable resources or any changes in human activities that change vulnerability (e.g. changes to species grown on leases), regulatory responsibility or environmental changes).

The components of a contingency plan are shown in Box 3.

Examples of developed country experiences in contingency planning and response to serious disease outbreaks are given by Håstein and Gudding (2005) for Norway, and by McGladdery and Stephenson (2005) for Canada. The Canadian experience in developing a model contingency plan and then modifying it into an actual working contingency plan in the face of a sudden outbreak of a serious exotic disease (MSX (Haplosporidium nelsoni) in eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica)) is discussed by the latter authors. Fegan (2005) presents two case studies of attempts by national governments and the private sector in developing countries to deal with serious outbreaks of disease in penaeid shrimp - yellowhead disease (YHD) and white spot disease (WSD) in Thailand and loose shell syndrome (LSS) in India. However, in both of these cases, as with the recent outbreaks of koi herpesvirus (KHV) in Indonesia, national governments were unprepared to deal with the disease outbreaks, as no contingency plans had been made prior to the epizootic appearance of the pathogen.

Components of a contingency plan (Baldock, 2005)
  • Summary document
  • Technical plans
    • Disease strategy manuals (one for each high priority disease)
    • General procedures manuals
    • Enterprise manuals
    • Job descriptions
  • Support plans
    • Financial
    • Resource
    • Legislation
    • Other agencies
  • Operational capability
    • Management manuals
    • Diagnostic resources
    • Field personnel
    • Training resources
    • Awareness and education
    • Response exercises

The relationships among the different components of a model contingency plan are shown in Figure 4 and each of the various components are discussed below.

10.1 Summary document

The responsible authority should prepare a summary document presenting an overview of the national approach for contingency planning for serious aquatic animal diseases. The information should be concisely and clearly presented, such that it can be easily understood by all stakeholders, many of whom will have little or no understanding of the technical aspects of aquatic animal health. Information on emergency preparedness and response, including contingency planning, can be incorporated into a broader document presenting the country’s National Aquatic Animal Health Strategy. An example of this is AQUAPLAN, which presents to the public Australia’s strategic plan for aquatic animal health (AFFA, 1999).

10.2 Technical plans

Technical plans, presented as sets of instructions or manuals, are required to support the various components of national contingency plans. Some manuals can be “generic”for components that apply to all/most disease emergencies; whereas others will need to be disease specific, taking into account the need for specialized expertise, partnerships or international coordination. The exact number of manuals or instructions needed for a given contingency plan may vary, depending on the nature of the pathogen, the disease under consideration and the nature of the aquatic resources they are designed to protect. The technical plans developed for use by government must incorporate private-sector contacts as required and be available to those personnel for cohesive coordination of effort. Any updates must, likewise, be shared with all contacts that remain listed or are added to the technical implementation plan.

Relationships among different components of a National Aquatic Animal
Disease Contingency Plan (Baldock, 2005)


An example of a national emergency preparedness and response programme is the Australian Aquatic Animal Diseases Veterinary Emergency Plan (AQUAVETPLAN. See AFFA, 2002). The AQUAVETPLAN consists of a series of management, operational procedures, enterprise (facility) and disease strategy manuals outlining Australian emergency preparedness, response and control strategies. The manuals provide guidance, based on experienced analysis, linking policy, strategies, implementation, coordination and emergency management plans. This plan is also aimed at maximizing access to terrestrial animal emergency response expertise by paralleling the terrestrial AUSVETPLAN as closely as possible. At present, the AQUAVETPLAN manuals include:

10.2.1 Control Centers Management Manual

The Control Centers Management Manual is a management manual that outlines the organizational response during the investigation, alert, operational and stand-down phases of an aquatic animal disease emergency. The manual:

10.2.2 Enterprise manual

Enterprise manuals can be used provide detailed disease emergency response guidelines for a number of different types of “enterprise”, such as aquaculture facilities, hatcheries, diagnostic laboratories, processing plants, live markets, etc. As an example, the AUQAVETPLAN Enterprise Manual describes the emergency response options available for control and eradication of aquatic animal diseases for four general types of production systems:

It also provides a framework for deciding which strategy to use, taking into account such additional factors as the type of pathogen, the management practices used and the effectiveness of available treatments. The manual is divided into three sections and the appendices:

10.2.3 Destruction manual

The Destruction manual is an operational procedures manual to be used in instances where preventing the spread of a serious disease necessitates the efficient and humane killing of stock. The manual:

10.2.4 Disposal manual

The Disposal manual is an operational procedures manual that provides guidance on best practice for safe transport and disposal of carcasses, animal products and wastes. The manual includes guidance on:

10.2.5 Disease strategy manuals

Disease strategy manuals are a series of manuals that provide specific information needed for the recognition and control of individual diseases. At present AQUAVETPLAN includes strategy manuals for two diseases of finfish -viral encephalopathy and retinopathy (VER) and furunculosis (Aeromonas salmonicida salmonicida). Each disease strategy manual covers the following topics, with disease-specific variation in the subtopics that are included:

10.2.6 Job descriptions

A rapid and effective response to a disease emergency requires that all key personnel involved in implementing the contingency plan clearly know and follow their roles and responsibilities. Designated alternates should be alerted and ready when a contingency plan is put into effect, whether for training or for a real-time exercise, in case key personnel cannot participate for reasons beyond their control. Key staff should be identified (by name, title or position), along with their major responsibilities and current contact information. Where agreed upon by the contact person, personal contact information can be included in case that detection of an emergency disease occurs outside regular working hours. Alternatively, dedicated phone numbers or 24-hour security numbers can be provided. Contingency plan responsibilities should be incorporated into the normal job description of key individuals; however, it is also essential to have this information included in any operational procedures manual, so everyone involved in an emergency response knows their duties, the chain of command and can access the requisite contact information.

10.3 “Surge” support

Implementation of a contingency plan in the face of a major disease outbreak requires substantial financial, equipment and human resources over and above those required for non-emergency (routine) operations. This means that contingency planning must take into account routine operating budgets and maintain sufficient equipment and personnel time to permit a minimal state of response readiness should a suspect or emergency diagnosis be made. Resource plans and access to personnel from other projects or operational offices/laboratories should be agreed upon, in advance, by senior managers to avoid wasting time seeking approvals or negotiating conditions when an emergency is underway. A major outbreak of a rapidly spreading, highly pathogenic disease may require the involvement of many governmental departments and agencies, key private-sector organizations, and regional or international assistance and expertise. Recent agreements, such as those signed by Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States for serious terrestrial animal diseases, could be used as models for regional or multinational cooperation. This would be especially useful for countries that share waterbodies and/or have comparable or complimentary expertise in the aquatic resources deemed vulnerable.

10.4 Operational capability

“The contingency plan(s) should provide information on the staff required to undertake the control measures, their responsibilities, and instructions on the chain of command.” (OIE, 2004).

Developing and maintaining an operational capability to effectively and efficiently deal with emergency disease events is a major and continuing challenge. It is not possible to be prepared for all possible emergencies, but countries can aim towards having the resources prepared for more likely outbreak scenarios. This can be accomplished by ensuring that key personnel are well trained and that key stakeholders are aware of the significance of emergency diseases and the need for rapid, coordinated and pre-agreed action plans. It should be noted and reinforced among key governmental and private-sector personnel that the primary objective is to avoid the need to put the contingency plan into action (i.e. to prevent the emergence of emergency diseases). Contingency plans can only remain effective if they are regularly tested. Complacency in testing a plan over an extended period of time (due to no disease emergencies) can render the best contingency plan ineffective. The vulnerable resource, personnel and environment inevitably change over time; thus the longer the time between testing, the greater the chances of gaps and inefficiencies occurring. Thus, the response capacity of all components of the contingency plan should be subject to regular testing and review.

10.4.1 Response management manuals

Manuals that outline the management structure and communication/information flow for an emergency disease should coordinate both national and local levels. This can include information on national and local disease control (or operation) centers, providing information on the chain of command, tahe functions of different sections of the Responsible Authority and role descriptions. Management manuals can also be prepared for:

A comprehensive list of sets of instructions or procedures that may be needed for contingency plans is given in Box 4. Note that several sets of procedures or instructions may be incorporated into a single operational procedures, disease strategy, management or enterprise manual, especially where expertise or resources overlap.

10.4.2 Diagnostic resources

“Countries establishing contingency plan (s) should establish national reference laboratories having the necessary facilities for diagnostic work on aquatic animal diseases that can be carried out rapidly. The national laboratory(ies) must also have established a set of instructions as regards rapid transportation of samples, and established protocols for quality assurance and diagnostic procedures to be used.” (OIE, 2004).

Once a particular disease has been recognized as an emergency, the capability to make a presumptive field diagnosis as well as subsequent confirmation in the laboratory must be available. For disease threats that are a high priority, this capability must be in place in advance of disease outbreaks. The initial diagnosis should be confirmed in a laboratory with specialized expertise with the disease in question, especially if this is a first diagnosis. Where the disease in question is an OIE-listed disease, OIE reference laboratories exist with the mandate of assisting with confirmatory diagnosis where such capacity does not exist within the country. Note, however, that these laboratories are also responsible for reporting a positive confirmation if the country submitting the sample does not do so within the recommended reporting period set by the Aquatic Animal Health Standards Commission (AAC) of the OIE (OIE, 2004). Abnormal findings during a disease outbreak should also be confirmed, as benign similar pathogens may be encountered during intense surveillance to map the exact distribution of the serious infection.

To respond effectively to an emergency disease, the authority to supervise activities and control access to known affected stocks as well as “unknown status”neighbouring stocks is critical. In addition, pre-prepared communication and information packages are essential to control “over-reaction”by non-disease experts. One of the first projects should be investigation of the possible avenues for introduction of the pathogen. If related to human activities that can be stopped, this must be pursued as quickly as possible.

Sets of instructions needed for emergency response management
(modified from OIE, 2004)
  • Standard Operating Procedures for diagnostic analyses at national reference laboratories.
  • Provisions for raising public awareness of aquatic animal diseases considered to pose a risk to local resources - supplement to on-farm surveillance.
  • Reporting procedures - for suspicion and for confirmatory diagnostics.
  • Confirmation of diagnosis, if necessary, at an OIE Reference Laboratory (recommended for OIE-listed disease agent detection for the first time in a country, or for a suspect detection in an “abnormal”aquatic host species.
  • Standing instructions to aquatic animal health personnel in the field with respect to security measures for collecting, packaging and transporting samples to designated laboratories.
  • Instructions for handling/disposal of dead aquatic animals at aquaculture establishments, from harvest/aboriginal fisheries, from live-holding brokers and from processing plants; as well as for sanitary culling of infected stock, as required.
  • Instructions for local disease control measures to prevent spread via community activities that may, or may not be directly related to the affected aquatic resource.
  • Instructions for the establishment areas designated as closed pending emergency surveillance to map the extent of the emergency disease outbreak.
  • Provisions for controlling movements of aquatic animals from areas designated as under emergency disease control.
  • Disinfection procedures, where appropriate for collection materials; holding, aquaculture and processing facilities; and for other water users in affected areas (e.g. recreational boats).
  • Fallowing procedures.
  • Surveillance methods for assessing success/failure of control efforts aimed at eradication.
  • Restocking procedures.
  • Compensation criteria and application procedures, where applicable for proprietary animals.

Perhaps the most important link in the chain from the site of the disease outbreak to the diagnostic laboratory is the necessity for adequately trained and motivated field personnel. Fisheries extension officers, aquaculture technicians or other local staff will be the first to know that a disease outbreak is occurring. To play an effective role in early disease detection, they must:

Additionally, it is useful if field staff:

10.4.3 Training resources

“Countries establishing contingency plan(s) must establish necessary training programmes to ensure that skills in field, administrative and diagnostic procedures are maintained.” (OIE, 2004).

All staff should be thoroughly trained in their roles and responsibilities in a disease emergency. More intense training will be needed for those who are in key coordination and decision-making positions, as well as for designated spokespeople responsible for responding to media enquiries.3 Training must also include designated back-up staff for all roles within the contingency plan. Training of aquatic animal health staff in early recognition of emergency diseases and collection and dispatch of diagnostic specimens is a key component for the effectiveness of any contingency plan.

3 Due to their knowledge of the disease or outbreak situation, key scientific personnel are often delegated responsibility for communicating with the media. However, this can reduce their availability for actual disease investigation, especially where there is intense media interest and thus, it is preferable that managers who have received preparatory briefing assume the role of media spokespeople.

Training for early recognition and diagnosis of exotic diseases of concern should, ideally, be undertaken in areas where the disease is endemic and laboratory personnel are familiar with the disease agent and its various manifestations. If such training cannot be conducted in areas endemic for the disease, tight biosecurity conditions at the training facility are required to ensure no disease agents escape… eliciting the contingency plan prematurely!

An outline of human resource requirements and expertise for establishing effective contingency plans in the Asia-Pacific Region is given in Tables 2 and 3.

10.4.4 Awareness and education

This is one of the most critical, but sometimes neglected, aspects of contingency planning for emergency diseases, and for fostering “ownership”and support for emergency disease control/eradication campaigns from farmers and other key stakeholders. This should focus on a “bottom up”approach, since the front line for early messages and media attention is usually the affected farmers or fishery industry representatives, as well as local government authorities.

The responsibilities involved at different levels and the capacity building required for contingency planning (modified from Mohan and Phillips 2005)

PeopleResponsibilitiesCapacity Required
  • National committees/responsible authorities (e.g. Ministry of Fisheries, Department of Fisheries, Department of Livestock, fisheries research centers, fisheries teaching institutions, extension departments, private sector) with a single, clearly identified, lead person.
  • developing national aquatic animal health strategies
  • identifying diseases of national concern
  • commissioning risk analyses on high-priority disease threats
  • developing technical plans for emergency preparedness (disease response manuals, general procedure manuals, enterprise/facility manuals, job descriptions)
  • developing support plans for emergency preparedness (e.g. financial, human & equipment resources, legislation)
  • developing active disease surveillance & epidemiological analysis capabilities & emergency reporting systems
  • conducting training & awareness programmes
  • qualified human resources with specialization in aquatic animal health (e.g. diagnostics, disease management and treatment, epidemiology, risk analysis, surveillance, zoning, biosecurity)
  • qualified human resources with knowledge on environmental assessment, socio-economic infrastructure (knowledge of established or changing human activities for each area encompassing vulnerable populations)
  • necessary laboratory infrastructure
  • access to information
  • financial resources
  • full-time dedicated field equipment
  • Ensuring operational capacity for early warning & emergency response (e.g. management manuals, diagnostic resources, capacity & awareness building)
  • trained human resource for diagnostics (levels I, II & III diagnostic capabilities), risk analyses, surveillance, epidemiology.
  • adequate infrastructure, equipment, authority (policy & regulations), communication and transport access.
  • training resources
  • emergency field & laboratory services
  • adequate financial resources

The responsibilities involved at the different levels of technical complexity and the capacity building required for effective early disease detection and emergency response implementation (modified from Mohan and Phillips (2005)

PeopleResponsibilitiesCapacity required to support skill development
Pond/Farm Level
(e.g. farmers, farmer associations, fisheries extension officers, officers of the local disease control center)
  • recognize a disease emergency
  • report to the concerned authority
  • initiate early response controls
  • facilitate the implementation of response options suggested by the local/national disease control centers through providing access to affected sites, on-site boats & other equipment, & assisting with communication of information as it becomes available with anyone with direct links to the affected animals.
  • Provide local/national authorities with any information that can help trace the source of infection, as well as any movements of live animals off the site prior to the disease outbreak
  • Level I diagnostics (presumptive diagnosis based on history and gross clinical signs)
  • methods of disease reporting, collection of data & samples
  • basic biosecurity principles to help prevent spread of disease pending, as well as following diagnostic confirmation of infection
  • disinfection procedures
  • methods for safe destruction & disposal of suspected infected animals
Village/District level
(e.g. extension staff, department officers, farmer leaders, research staff, officers of the local disease control center; fisheries organizations, aboriginal resource users, processors, live-holding brokers)
  • recognize a disease emergency
  • report to the concerned higher authority
  • coordinate early response controls between affected farmers, fishery interests, related stakeholders, local authorities and the State/Province level
  • implement the recommended control options to prevent disease spread, both prior to and following diagnostic confirmation
  • Level I diagnostics (presumptive diagnosis based on history and gross clinical signs)
  • procedures for collection of healthy & moribund samples, optimal preservation techniques
  • transportation biosecurity measures to prevent spread of disease via collection of samples for laboratory analysis, including disinfection methods
  • methods for safe destruction and disposal of suspected infected animals
State/Province level
(e.g. research personnel, officers of departmental authorities, officers of state and provincial authorities and disease control centers)
  • identify a disease emergency
  • identify risks associated with the suspected outbreak of the exotic pathogen
  • assist with confirmation of suspect diagnosis using direct expertise or via a national/OIE reference laboratory
  • report confirmation to the national authority
  • ensure implementation of suggested control options, both pending & following diagnostic confirmation of infection
  • advanced training in aquatic animal health at graduate/post-graduate levels
  • level II and III diagnostics
  • principles of risk analysis
  • epidemiology
  • organizing general and targeted surveillance programmes
National level
  • personnel from national research laboratories, main authority departments, national disease control centers
  • organize and coordinate surveillance systems for early warning
  • organize and coordinate disease reporting mechanisms
  • confirm the disease diagnosis with the reference laboratory
  • conduct risk analysis and analyse risks associated with the reported outbreak scenario
  • develop national contingency plans for dealing with aquatic animal disease emergencies
  • provide field exercises and regular reviews of contingency plans to ensure effective & well-coordinated implementation
  • define disease zones based on data from reporting laboratories
  • organize training & rapid communication plans for accurate information dissemination
  • advanced training and specialization in aquatic animal health at degree/postgraduate levels
  • Level III diagnostics for listed diseases of concern to the country
  • Designing & conducting risk analyses
  • Designing & conducting surveillance programmes

The preparation of proactive communication plans, shared, where possible, with industry stakeholders responsible for vulnerable resources, can avoid unnecessary deflection of valuable expertise to address “blame”questions at the height of the disease emergency. Proactive communication can take the form of pamphlets or flyers that are available both before and during a disease emergency. These can be kept on the farm, in local field offices, and in government and laboratory facilities. Most contingency plans focus on reactive communication responses, but the value of pre-prepared information cannot be over-estimated, especially as a critical time-saving exercise for disease experts.

The communication strategies should aim to make stakeholders aware of the nature and potential consequences of important diseases, and of the benefits to be derived from participating in their prevention and eradication. Furthermore, communications should emphasise the need to rally the whole community to the common cause of fighting the disease. Another critical component of all public communication is the need to lead with a key message related to food safety. This is the general public’s first concern, and thus the consumer needs to be immediately and strongly informed that (in most cases) the aquatic animal disease has no human health significance. If this concern is not addressed as soon as possible, economic losses can increase significantly beyond those directly due to mortalities, due to an inability to market animals that should be removed from the water.

Professional communicators and extension experts should be enlisted to help design and carry out awareness and publicity campaigns. Meetings with farming and fishing communities, processors and traders are recommended, in addition to communication with media outlets, such as newspapers, radio and television that can reach a broader target audience. Radio and television news programmes have proven to be a very effective method for spreading the message. These should be broadcast at times of the day when most farmers could be expected to be listening to the radio - this may be early in the morning or at night.

10.4.5 Simulated response exercises

“Announced and unannounced field exercises for administrators and aquatic animal health personnel should be carried out to maintain the state of readiness.” (OIE, 2004).

Practice runs of contingency plans are extremely useful for testing and refining the plans in advance of a real disease emergency. They are also a valuable means of building teams for emergency disease responses and for training staff.

Disease outbreak scenarios that are as realistic as possible should be devised for the exercises, using real data where possible (e.g. for vulnerable farm locations, populations and trading/transfer activities). The scenario used may cover one or more time phases during the outbreak with a range of possible outcomes. However, neither the scenario nor the exercise should be overly complicated or long. It is best to test just one part of the contingency plan at a time, e.g. operation of a local disease control center. Practice exercises can be carried out as a purely paper exercise or through trial-run activities, or as a combination of both. On completion of each practice run, there should be a review to identify areas where the plan needs to be modified and/or further training is needed.

A full-scale contingency plan simulation exercise can be attempted after the individual components of the plan have been tested have met minimum response criteria. Attempting a full-scale practice run before testing the component parts can complicate accurate identification of any “weak”spots and is not recommended.

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