The team becomes the latest tool in the Texas Division of Emergency Management system. While the responders have just officially earned their wings and are available for service, many of the volunteers previously assisted during the wildfires that burned across Bastrop County last year.

“In some cases, our volunteers escorted ranchers back into the evacuation zone in order to gather and feed livestock. This is something they could not have done without an escort. Going forward, I see our responders providing mounted security, assisting in animal evacuations, certain types of veterinarian services, and other tasks as directed by the state emergency management coordinator on site,” she added.

Bernhard says TAHC’s response team has been undergoing rigorous training through the Incident Command System (ICS), a subcomponent of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), an agency responsible for organizing and deploying various assets in times of disaster.

“We have also been conducting field exercises to hone our mapping skills, keeping up to standard on GPS devices and other relative tasks that might be required during an emergency, and getting comfortable working in the field,” Bernhard said.

She says her team of responders and all staff members at TAHC are dedicated to agriculture in Texas.

“It’s our way of life. It’s in our hearts to be committed to agriculture—a good way for us to give back to those that work so hard to preserve the traditions of agriculture in Texas. It’s what we do best,” she says.

"The development of a mounted response team is a testimony to the dedication of TAHC personnel. These employees are volunteering to put themselves and their horses in harm's way to help with emergency response operations. In the future, with proper training, these responders could assist not only with animal disaster issues, but also participate in other response roles as requested, including providing horseback security services, or participating in search and rescue operations," says Dr. Dee Ellis, TAHC Executive Director and State Veterinarian.

To find out more about the Emergency Responder program, Bernhard invites agriculture users to visit the TAHC Web site at http://www.tahc.state.tx.us and to follow the agency on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/tahc. You can also reach TAHC toll free at 800-550-8242.