By Greg Rosenthal
Osama El-Lissy, Deputy Administrator of USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program, presented the 2019 Deputy Administrator’s Safeguarding Award to the Multiagency Infested Sea Container Response Team. This award, formally announced in June 2020, recognizes exceptional work in safeguarding America’s agricultural and natural resources.
The incident began on October 1, 2019, at the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point in North Carolina. This massive facility serves as a transfer point between rail, trucks, and ships for the U.S. military. When U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspected military sea containers that had just arrived from Korea, they discovered suspect sawflies and Asian gypsy moth egg masses. PPQ quickly identified the pests and recommended full inspection of all 1,000 containers to mitigate the risk.
CBP immediately realized they needed help to perform a task of this magnitude, and PPQ managers acted fast to pull in resources. Within a few hours, they scheduled a team of volunteers from PPQ units in three States, as well as the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The volunteers quickly shifted work and personal plans to assist with limited notice. Everyone understood that timely inspections were crucial to safeguarding American agriculture, and their rapid response reflected their strong commitment to the mission.
The multi-agency group developed an effective inspection process by staging containers efficiently, saving time and cost. They also created a collection device to remove egg masses from the underside of containers without needing to stand under a container, which was prohibited. As a result, the group successfully inspected all 1,000 containers within 9 days. In total, they intercepted 225 pests, including 115 Asian gypsy moth egg masses, and fumigated 196 containers, working after hours and on weekends.
By quickly coordinating a multi-agency response, the group mitigated the risk of these harmful pests becoming established in the United States, where they could damage agriculture and natural resources and require significant costs for eradication. In addition, the team ensured that the U.S. military could safely move the now-cleared containers that held important cargo to their destinations as quickly as possible, minimizing disruptions to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). This operation strengthened the relationships between PPQ, CBP, DoD, and the State, enhancing the safeguarding efforts of all the organizations now and in the future.
The United Nations declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health(IYPH) and then extended the celebration through July1, 2021. This worldwide campaign is promoting the value of our precious plant resources and the need to safeguard them against invasive pests. To celebrate IYPH, each month Plant Protection Today is highlighting how PPQ safeguards America’s agricultural and natural resources against invasive pests, and facilitates the safe trade of agricultural products. Read our article on IYPH to learn more—and how you can join this once-in-a-lifetime event!