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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Preparedness is a whole community issue

Last week, I was able to attend the Regional Response Team, Region 9 quarterly meeting.  More than 100 people from a variety of agencies attended at least one day of the all-hazard response support and preparedness group’s three-day meeting at Camp Navajo in Bellemont, Ariz.

First responders learn about Bakken Crude Oil atop a
BNSF tanker car in Bellemont, AZ.
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line runs through Apache, Coconino, Mohave and Navajo counties in Northern Arizona. Although no Bakken Crude Oil has come through the state yet, those in the audience were there to learn about Bakken  – what it is, what kind of tanker car transports it, what can happen if it spills and what kind of response is needed if it does. The attendees also brought their emergency response plans to determine if they have effective responses for a spill worked into their plans.

Everyone at the meeting knew the importance of being prepared ahead of a disaster. To them, that means learning about what potential disasters could affect them and then writing up plans to determine their responses for the worst possible scenario.

Preparedness does not only have to be something emergency managers or first responders work on in order to be ready for a train derailment. Preparedness is something each person in the community can (and should) do.

At the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), we talk to people about personal preparedness regularly. We encourage people to plan, prepare, inquire and inspire others to be prepared.

Write a family communication plan that details how you and your family will respond in an emergency. Include a place to meet, as well as an evacuation route away from the house. Plan what to do if told to shelter-in-place. Decide on an out-of-town contact, a person the entire family can call or text to let them know that they are safe.

Prepare a disaster supplies kit; a collection of basic items you may need in the event of an emergency. Your disaster supplies kit should contain essential food, water and supplies for at least three days. It should have a first aid kit and medications, a flashlight, radio and batteries. Don’t forget to account for any special needs and/or pets.

Be informed about what disasters may happen in your community, natural and man-made. Find out if hazardous materials are transported through your community. Learn how your local officials will tell you about an emergency.

Inspire others to be prepared as well. Give blood, take a first aid course, volunteer with the Red Cross or a Community Emergency Response Team.

One of the things I always notice when I attend one of these mixed agency events is the willingness and desire for everyone to work together and to build those important relationships. They know that they are stronger as a group, not as individual agencies. The same can be said for your neighborhood and place of employment. Talk to your neighbors about being prepared and what you can do together to be better prepared as a whole community.

For more information on being prepared, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN). AzEIN has many more preparedness tips along with information on hazards and statewide emergencies.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Have Their Backs. Live Firewise


Arizona is what’s known in the emergency management business as a “wildfire state,” which is another way of saying our state has a history of large, destructive wildfires. The reasons for that unfortunate designation are long-term drought and hot, dry and windy summers—the perfect conditions for wildfires.

Last year, over 1,500 wildfires occurred in Arizona. That total is below our 10 year (2005 - 2014) average of 2,233, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center, but one or two slow seasons doesn't mean this summer won’t be busy.

In 2006, there were 1,601 reported wildfires in Arizona, including  the largest in state history. The Wallow Fire burnt over 538,000 acres, forced the evacuation of thousands, and damaged or destroyed 78 total structures in Apache, Greenlee, Graham and Navajo counties.

While there is no way of knowing where or when the next big wildfire will spark, there are ways to protect lives and property in the Whole Community. Wildfire mitigation is the focus of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs’ first ever public service announcement (PSA) campaign.

The Have Their Backs PSAs focus on the home and/or business owners’ responsibility to the Whole Community. The radio and television spots and billboards pay tribute to wildland firefighters who “go to extraordinary lengths to save lives and property,” and asks Arizonans to “have their backs” by living Firewise®.

A person who "lives Firewise" takes steps to reduce the impact of wildfire on lives, property and the local economy. With the 2015 wildfire season a few weeks away, Arizonans who own homes and businesses in the wildland-urban interface are asked to make do-it-yourself improvements on their property:

·         Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves and debris.
·         Trim trees that overhang your house.
·         Replace or repair loose or missing roof shingles.
·         Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screens with metal mesh.
·         Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh.
·         Repair or replace broken windows and damaged or loose window screens.
·         Screen or box in areas below raised patios and decks.
·         Move flammable materials such as mulch or firewood piles away from exterior walls.
·         Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches such as lawn furniture.

The Have Their Backs campaign will continue through June and was produced in association with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Arizona State Forestry Division, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, freelance photographer Kari Greer and videographer Renette Saba.

DEMA is working with the Arizona Broadcasters’ Association to air its television and radio spots statewide. Billboards were placed in fire-prone areas, including Globe, Heber-Overgaard, Prescott and Sierra Vista.

The Firewise Communities Program®,, is a national fire prevention and mitigation campaign that “teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourage neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent losses.” DEMA received permission from the National Fire Protection Association to use the Firewise trademark.

For more information on the PSA campaign and what you can do to Have Their Backs, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network website at

Share your opinion of the campaign with us at

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Prepare for Arizona Wildfire Season

Today's blog comes from Dolores Garcia, Wildfire Mitigation/Education and Community Assistance Specialist for the Bureau of Land Management - Arizona State Office

Dolores has been in the wildland fire business since 1994. She started her career helping to manage and mobilize Southwest Firefighter (SWFF) Type 2 crews with the US Forest Service on the Santa Fe National Forest. She was an Engine Captain with the US Forest Service on the Santa Fe National Forest, a Fire Prevention & Fire Look-Out Supervisor on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and an Aircraft Dispatcher at the Southwest Area Coordination Center before accepting her current position at BLM Arizona.

Wildfires can happen year-round in Arizona. The largest and most devastating typically occur between May and mid-July. You’ll often hear the timeframe referred to as “fire season” due to the peak intensity and high visibility of wildfires. Hot dry weather combined with accumulations of dry, drought stressed vegetation, when exposed to a flame, spark, or a heat source can create a raging inferno, threatening homes, communities, and some of our treasured landscapes in its path.

The most treasured item at risk whenever a wildfire occurs is human life.  Every wildfire directly impacts not only the first responders and firefighters but the public as well. 

Those of us in Emergency (or in my case Wildfire) Management take our roles very seriously. Public and emergency responder/firefighter safety is a primary tenet and driving factor in everything we do. We are first and foremost educators, helping the public get the information they need to be prepared for whatever emergency they may face.  

We also ensure that our first responders/firefighters have all they need, so that they too are prepared for whatever they may face.  What’s required can often seem daunting and at times discouraging.  But more often than not it is rewarding. 

During this time of year we focus efforts on wildfire awareness, preparedness and prevention.  We begin by asking a few simple questions, “Is your home or community at risk of wildfire?”  Typically followed by, “Are you prepared?”  

We look for communities to get Firewise TM and gradually work toward becoming a Fire Adapted Community by implementing techniques to give their homes and communities a fighting chance against wildfire.

We encourage homeowners to begin the evaluation of their home and landscaping, and to develop an Emergency Action Plan and an Emergency Kit.  Clearing gutters of dead leaves and pine needles, as well as trimming back brush and tree limbs, and knowing where you will go and what you need in case of an emergency is not only smart but essential.  All these actions not only decrease the risk to the home and the homeowner, but also to the firefighter/first responder.  Reduce the hazard, reduce the risk. 

We further reduce the risk by preventing wildfires. More than half of all wildfires in Arizona are caused by people and are often preventable. The rest is caused by lightning, which is also typically accompanied by higher humidity or rain, generally reducing the intensity of wildfires started in those conditions.  

As we have gone back to review location and causes of all person caused fires within Arizona, we have seen a pattern.  Many of our fires occur along the major roads and highways.  While most people see carelessly tossed cigarettes as the cause here, we see that the major cause of fire is dragging metal which can create sparks from trailer tow/safety chains, flat tires and rims striking pavement, poorly secured exhaust systems, and  metal hooks/buckles from tie-down straps. 

Another major cause of wildfires is abandoned, unattended or poorly extinguished campfires. Campfires are one of the main reasons most public land managers choose to put Fire Restrictions in effect within the peak of fire season. The purpose of Fire Restrictions is to limit or restrict activities that can cause wildfires during the time of year when conditions can lead to extreme fire behavior.

We are all in this together, Arizona. When we choose to reduce the hazards we choose to reduce the risk to ourselves, our homes, communities, neighbors, and first responders/firefighters. We choose to protect, to be prudent and purposeful in our actions, and be prepared for emergencies.

For more information on Arizona Firewise TM, becoming a fire-adapted community, developing emergency action plans, fire restrictions or fire prevention tips,  

Be sure to check out the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs’ Wildfire Preparedness campaign, Have Their Backs

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Communication is the backbone of being a successful PIO

Interview for a news story.
I’m a Public Information Officer or PIO for short. It’s basically public relations for a governmental entity. A PIO’s job is to share information with the community. We do so in a number of ways. We write press releases, speeches, talking points, articles and blogs. We provide community outreach and create educational campaigns. We craft messages to provide critical information to the public. We do interviews with reporters. We network with other PIOs.

The last one is crucial to being a good PIO because informal communication is an integral part of our job. At the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) our jobs get busy when an emergency or disaster strikes, which is no time to call a bunch of people that I do not know asking for help.

Getting together when there are no emergencies or disasters is the best way to build relationships. So when that disaster does hit, not only will I know who to call, but I’ll have a better idea of how they can help. And just as important, they will know who I am and understand my needs.

State and county PIOs participating
 in  a drill.
The State of Arizona has more than 800 PIOs representing state, county, city, tribal, police and fire, hospitals, schools, military and volunteer agencies. Each one does a great job working together and building those important relationships.

Last summer, when the Slide Fire was burning in Coconino County, PIOs representing 13 state, county, federal and volunteer agencies held daily conference calls to share information and discuss communication needs for the community. The calls were civil and productive, and it was helpful to know the people behind the voices.

The Slide Fire conference calls are an excellent example of PIOs working together to discuss whatever the problem may be and to determine who needs to do what.

Arizona PIOs have ample opportunities to get together to share information, network, and learn from each other. 

The Arizona Information Officers Association was created so Arizona PIOs could meet regularly to train, network and discuss issues and concerns.

2015 PIO Symposium
Arizona Public Service (APS) and Arizona State University (ASU) team up every year for the Arizona Public Information Officer Symposium. The symposium draws close to 200 PIOs each year with keynote speakers, panel discussions, and networking time allotted.

One of this year’s keynote speakers was Fernanda Santos, Phoenix Bureau Chief for the New York Times. Santos talked about the importance of the relationship between the media and PIOs. “We can be powerful allies,” she said. “Our jobs are interconnected and interdependent. We need each other. We all want to get the job done well and right.”

As a PIO, I spend time participating in exercises and drills to prepare for potential emergencies at DEMA, working through incidents with partners from multiple agencies and organizations. Developing those relationships with other Public Information Officers is just one more way to prepare for that potential crisis. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Walking Shoes a Must to Tour the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station

PVNGS at night. Photo by: Paul Escen,
Arizona Public Service Company (APS)

Last week, a group of co-workers and I caravanned across metro Phoenix to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS) near Tonopah, Arizona. Situated on more than 4,000 acres of land, PVNGS’s three pressurized water reactors provide electric power to the southwest.

Nuclear power plants use the heat generated from nuclear fission in a contained environment to convert water to steam, which powers the generators to produce electricity.

Driving down the road towards the plant, the cooling towers, billowing steam vapor into the air, grew in size as we got closer to the station.

We climbed out of our vans and began the process of entering the plant. After we signed in, had our ID’s checked, and walked through a metal detector, we met our guide to begin the tour. Walking through the compound, I was surprised to learn that more than a mile separates reactor one from reactor three. The containment buildings are so large (about 20 stories high), it does not seem like they are that far apart.

One of the interesting things we got to do was visit the control room simulator built out exactly like the control room’s that run each reactor. Red buttons, green buttons, temperature gauges, flashing lights and levers were all over the walls of the room. Tables were set up with computer screens showing numbers, temperatures and other diagnostic information.

The simulation control room is a place where Palo Verde employees can exercise response plans and procedures to an emergency occurring in the reactors. It is a safe environment to practice responding to and working through alerts and emergencies.

Some interesting facts I learned on my tour of PVNGS:
  • Construction of PVNGS began in 1976. The first unit went into commercial operation in 1986. The third in
    Reactor fuel assembly
    Photo by: Paul Escen, APS
    1988. The total cost to build the plant was $2.6 billion.
  • Palo Verde generates 3,810 megawatts of power to more than 4 million people in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
  • The plant has a full-time fire department, security detail and medical staff.
  • It is the largest nuclear energy generating facility in the United States, employing close to 2,500 people.
  • The reactors and steam generators are housed in airtight, reinforced, concrete structures, which are designed to withstand the force of a 747 jet airplane impact.
  • Palo Verde is the only nuclear energy facility in the world to use treated sewage effluent for cooling water in its towers. The water is treated in an 80-acre reservoir. Twenty billion gallons of this water are recycled yearly.
  • It is a zero-emissions facility, using no fossil fuels to generate electricity.
  • The plant is unique in that it is the only one in the world situated in the desert, not next to a large body of water. 

The Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), PVNGS, the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management and the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency annually review, exercise and revise the offsite emergency response plan, which details how state, local and plant personnel will respond to an emergency at the plant.

The Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN) has preparedness information available online. To find out more about PVNGS and DEMA’s involvement, email