Foot and Mouth plans tested in '˜Exercise Blackthorn'

Government departments in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England are today (Thursday) testing foot and mouth disease contingency plans in Exercise Blackthorn.

Officials from DAERA, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, DEFRA and the Animal & Plant Health Agency are gathering at APHA offices Weybridge working together to run the first phase of a national foot and mouth disease simulation exercise called Exercise Blackthorn.

While the risk of foot and mouth disease arriving in the UK remains low, the aim of Exercise Blackthorn is to test all of government’s current contingency plans for a national outbreak of the disease. It will establish the current state of readiness whilst identifying issues and improvements in policies, plans, instructions, structures and recovery procedures employed in managing an outbreak.

The exercise will simulate a medium to large scale outbreak that has spread from England to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In today’s first simulation exercise the scenario commences with the suspicion of foot and mouth disease emerging. A further table-top exercise will take place on 8 March 2018, followed by a real-time exercise on 25 and 26 April 2018. Exercise Blackthorn will end on 7 June 2018 in a final table-top exercise, where the simulated outbreak will be investigated to the point of disease eradication and recovery aspects considered.

The NI Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey said: “Having robust and effective contingency plans are crucial to containing and managing the spread of an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.

“The effectiveness of our plans must be fully tested so we can establish our current state of readiness for such an outbreak. A national exercise, such as Exercise Blackthorn, provides the opportunity to share good practice with other administrations in the UK, sharing knowledge and agreeing lessons to improve our response and effectiveness.”

The EU Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Directive 2003/85/EC requires Member States to exercise their contingency plans twice within a 5-year period or during the five years period after the outbreak of a major epizootic disease has been effectively controlled and eradicated.

An exercise evaluation report will be published in autumn 2018.