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US Customs & Border Protection Works to Secure US after Dominican ASF Outbreak

6 September 2021, at 12:30am

The recent outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the Dominican Republic -- the first detected case in the Western Hemisphere, and just over 200 miles away from U.S. soil -- has prompted an immediate response from multiple governmental agencies. One of these is the U.S. Customs & Border Protection. John Segel, a Deputy Executive Director with CBP, spoke about the steps they’re taking to curtail an ASF outbreak in the U.S. in response to the positive cases in the Dominican Republic.

Addressing the ASF outbreak in the Dominican Republic

CBP is focusing specifically on the threat emerging within the Dominican Republic, employing a peripheral approach to identify the next logical sequence of locations that could be the next to have a potential threat of risk. This will enable them to more easily identify cargo and people coming into the U.S., using advanced information to target and select and clear both legitimate and stop illegitimate movement of goods.

Since ASF isn’t a new disease, there are already ASF detection measures in place in the Western hemisphere and the U.S.

A couple of the key points of focus are general aviation which are flying in from a lot of different destinations, and they have a larger footprint of where they arrive into the U.S. CBP already has safeguards in place, including fixed-based operators, the small airport operators that receive these aircraft, and there are customs officials at those locations to clear people and things into the country.

There are also operators who ensure all stores are purged, all waste, garbage, and anything prohibited on board is properly safeguarded and disposed of, either through incineration or other approved methods that mitigate and eliminate the risk.

CBP is also adding extra focus onto that level, ensuring that all agreements are up to date, and that there is a physical presence inspecting and ensuring that the risk factors are addressed. This is especially important given that there is a lot of small vessel movement throughout the Caribbean into Florida and into Puerto Rico.

Securing ports of entry into the U.S.

Back in 2003 when the Department of Homeland Security was set up, several existing authorities and administrations merged into CBP, including animal and plant health protection groups. Right now, there are around 700 CBP agriculture specialists, and they’re working in lockstep with USDA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to address the risks inherent in this new outbreak.

These agriculture specialists are working with border patrol agents within customers to cover all the ports of entry into the country and address any risk of infection from those ports. These include land borders, airports, seaporst, postal mail, and more.

To guide their efforts, CBP leverages manifest information on items coming into the country (i.e. sender, recipient, and item type), then uses that information to adjudicate and clear legitimate cargo. They ensure that the cargo has market access in the U.S. and meets all animal health requirements. This includes checking non-infectious statements, and all the attributions that are needed for the safe importation of legitimate goods.

This information can also be used to address the more illicit network of cargo that circumvents due process to bring high-risk and impermissible items into the U.S. CBP can use this information to intercept high risk items at those ports of entry.

Additionally, CBP receives passenger manifests from aircraft, and uses that data to track who’s on the plane, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going, and if their point of origin carries any particular risks. This allows CBP to focus resources on higher risk venues, layering that information with bulk surveillance to test assumptions and, if needed, cast a wider net.

Bulk surveillance includes canine programs, which are most effective at illicit swine detection, X-ray technology, and other non-intrusive inspections.

Outreach & public awareness

To leverage public support to help in their efforts, CBP engages in outreach and education efforts. As Segel said, “an informed trade and travel community is a good community.” They’re more compliant and proactive in terms of disease prevention.

CBP works with public-private partnerships to ensure that everyone is aware of the risk and threats, and everyone does their part.

A great example is the “Don’t Pack a Pest” poster. This is a joint venture between CBP and the USDA:

Posters like these are displayed at ports of entry where people deplane, where they gather their things, and so forth. It’s also important to CBP that their outreach efforts explain not just the “what” but also the “why,” encouraging people to be more proactive about their own security.

There are a number of screens deployed in travel centers within the Dominican Republic where CBP is able to deliver custom messaging based on the most recent updates. This provides people coming into the U.S. with the most up to date information.

Final thoughts

Although there are many resources being put toward combating ASF, the public shouldn’t be concerned with fatigue or complacency when it comes to other threats.

CBP has a full and active approach to foreign analysis exclusion efforts as a whole, but also with some mobilization of resources to ensure that the Western hemisphere presence is acutely addressed as well.

It’s also important to stress that CBP is on the phone hourly with USDA and APHIS to address this issue. They put together the risk mitigation plans, which CBP then operationalizes. Thus, it’s important for all of these agencies to maintain their alignment and work in tandem to address this threat.