Pennsylvania State Police vehicles

A Pennsylvania State Police SUV and motorcycle are displayed in Harrisburg, Pa., in November 2021.

The avian influenza outbreak has drawn attention to poultry houses and raised concerns about farm intruders.

Trespassing, in addition to breaking the law, risks spreading deadly animal diseases.

But farms have many tools to improve the security of their buildings, said Cpl. Courtney Voorhees of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Voorhees, who spoke in a Friday poultry industry call, is part of the State Police Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Team, which helps businesses, churches and other groups identify security weaknesses at their buildings.

For most sites, Voorhees said, perimeter fencing is a good first line of defense. Enclosing an entire farm might not be feasible, so no-trespassing and video-surveillance-in-use signs are a good alternative.

Signs act as a deterrent, and their presence can elevate trespassing from a summary offense to a misdemeanor, Voorhees said.

Hosting visitors is discouraged at poultry farms to protect biosecurity, but signs can show essential outsiders, such as service personnel, where to park, and where they can and can’t go.

“If the signage is clearly posted, it removes their ability to say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to be here,’” Voorhees said.

Labeling buildings, such as at multi-house poultry complexes, will help visitors go to the right place and can assist firefighters during an emergency.

Visitors who will spend some time at the site can be issued badges and have a staffer escort them where they need to go.

If the farm has a video surveillance system, Voorhees recommended keeping footage for at least 15 days.

Exterior lighting is another good idea. It discourages mischief and can help night-shift workers feel safe.

Ideally, vehicles should be parked away from buildings. This recommendation comes out of dire policing scenarios, such as car bombings and vehicle fires, but Voorhees said it’s still something to consider.

“By making those plans that are worst-case scenario, they help mitigate perhaps smaller incidents that may occur on the property,” she said.

If a drone flies over the property, Voorhees suggested watching it, trying to take a picture of it, and looking for markings that could help in describing the machine. The encounter can be reported to law enforcement.

Should a stranger be sighted the farm, Voorhees said it’s OK to start a conversation and find out what the person is doing.

“I think you’re going to know probably relatively quickly if they’re there for legitimate purposes or not,” she said.

Of course, if the person seems to pose a danger, don’t engage. Call the police and alert others on the farm, she said.

The discussion about farm security was not prompted by mere speculation.

Kevin Brightbill, Pennsylvania’s state veterinarian, said State Police investigated a potential security threat this week near one of the depopulated farms in Lancaster County.

The incident turned out to be “tomfoolery” and not a big deal, but it’s a reminder that farms, as part of the food supply, could be targeted by bad actors, Brightbill said.

Lancaster Farming has requested further details about the incident from State Police.

In Pennsylvania, sick or dead captive birds, whether commercial or backyard fowl, should be reported to the Department of Agriculture at 717-772-2852.

Lancaster Farming offers a printable one-page handout with biosecurity recommendations, avian influenza symptoms and numbers to call for reporting a suspected outbreak. Find it at bit.ly/protectyourflock.

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