Search This Blog

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Emergency managers and responders hit a home run

As we arrive closer to the end of winter, Arizonans are ready to say goodbye to cold winds and welcome cool springtime weather.  Along with springtime, spring training baseball is also right around the corner. Sports complexes and baseball fields throughout the state are gearing up to welcome fans who want to take advantage of the nice weather and watch a game of baseball. Emergency managers, firefighters, police officers, and public information officers are also thinking of ways they can get in on the game and load their bases. Recently, I participated in a tabletop exercise at Salt River Fields that brought various departments and resources together to strategically plan ways to work together when responding to an emergency at a busy sports complex.

Representatives from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Office of Emergency Management and Office of Community Relations, Salt River Fire Department, Salt River Police Department, Salt River Fields Security staff and Operations staff, and Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs huddled around conference room tables to discuss scenarios and strategies for emergency response. Emergency management offices from Gila River Indian Community, Scottsdale, Mesa, and Maricopa County also participated in this exercise to provide tribal, city and county perspectives. Even a representative from the Colorado Rockies was present to share how this national baseball team might play a role in an emergency.

Listening to exercise participants share their insight, experience, and knowledge allowed me to see how these different entities come together to keep the general public safe. Whether it is sharing experience from past incidents or brainstorming new ways to mitigate a disaster, these managers and responders showed good sportsmanship in their ability to work as a team and leverage each other’s expertise.

During the tabletop exercise, the agencies contemplated who their stakeholders are, what health risks might be present in the emergency, and how to maintain public safety among large crowds of people. The public information officers discussed how to work with different agencies on messaging, what kind of information is vital for the public to know during an emergency, and how the media plays a role in helping agencies relay important messages to viewers/listeners/readers. Keen attention to detail, organized operational coordinating, and strong communication skills were strengths that allowed this exercise to be successful.

Springtime is the time of year to spend outside, enjoy the cool weather, and watch a game of spring training baseball. This is also the time of year when emergency managers and responders plan for situations where the public’s safety might be at risk. By working together with different organizations and sharing ideas about ways to improve emergency plans and procedures, tribal, state, county, and city agencies can hit a home run when it comes to managing emergencies. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Preparedness starts with our children

Public Information Officers wear many hats. We are the face of our agency, sharing information with the media and the public. We write articles and news releases and social media posts. We create educational campaigns and provide community outreach. Recently, I was able to spend time in Arizona City with the more than 600 students at Arizona City Elementary School.

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) recently launched a new flood awareness campaign called “Be Flood Aware: Prepare.” The campaign encourages people who live in flood prone areas to know their flood risk and to prepare accordingly.

One facet of the campaign is to visit the communities and talk to residents about flood risk and preparedness. Including children is always a good decision during community outreach. Not only are the children active participants, but they will take the information they learned and bring it back to their parents/family.

My colleagues and I spent about 30 minutes with 12 different groups, talking with students about the types of hazards that can occur in Arizona and the importance of being prepared. One of my slides showed images of a wildfire, a haboob (dust cloud), flooded roads, a building destroyed by snow, and a house damaged by a tornado. Each group I talked to was surprised that we have had tornadoes in Arizona.

When we talked about flooding, the students were knowledgeable and had the right answers – do not drive through a flooded road… turn around… wait it out… do not play in the flooded washes… protect your house.
Flooding is not new to Arizona City. The community is situated in a usually dry river basin, has many streets and washes that quickly flood when it rains. Streets and washes often get covered with water that takes time to recede. Houses get cut off from street access. Oftentimes when it starts to rain and it looks like it may last awhile, parents will head to the school to pick up their kids before the streets become impassable.

In addition to talking about hazards with the students, we discussed  the importance of being prepared. I was very proud of all the groups I spent time with and the extent they were engaged. Whenever I asked what should be in an emergency supplies kit, there was always more than one child with his or her hand up, ready to answer. 

They knew that they needed canned foods (and other non-perishable items), water, first aid and more. One of my favorite responses was from a little boy with glasses who responded shyly, “my teddy bear.” All the kids in the class got excited and started saying, “me too, me too,” causing that little boy to sit up proudly and grin ear-to-ear.

We played emergency kit bingo and I enjoyed watching the younger students frantically searching their boards for granola bars, flashlights and batteries.

I started the day hoping to teach the Arizona City children a few takeaways about flooding and emergency.

I left at the end of the day thinking that if we can judge Arizona City’s preparedness by the knowledge of its children, then the community is well on its way to being prepared for flooding and any other potential hazards that may hit the area. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Family festival invites community to learn about emergency preparedness

What does Smokey Bear, happy children playing games and information on emergency supply kits have in common?  They were all part of this year’s Tucson Parks and Recreation Department Family Festival in the Park.  In late November, I represented the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) at this event. Public resource information booths, sweet carnival treats and musical performances drew in crowds from the Tucson area. The well-attended, community-based event provided a platform to share information with the public regarding emergency preparedness.

DEMA joined the Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) at this festival to promote awareness of forest fires, home fires, and emergency readiness. Community members from diverse backgrounds—parents, grandparents, city employees, veterans and retirees—asked important questions regarding emergency planning for homes, work, and community centers. At the DEMA booth, visitors received emergency preparedness bags, brochures that included emergency tips, and a recommended supplies list for an emergency kit. 

Children of all ages approached the DEMA booth and curiously asked for information. Wide-eyed and with a big smile, a small child asked, “Can I learn about preparedness too?” I enthusiastically responded, “Of course you can!” and sent him off with an emergency preparedness pack. Other children rushed to the DEMA booth to grab brochures and then filled their parents’ already busy hands with more information than they could carry. Parents also found the information important to their households, as one of the festival attendees described how he prepares his home and vehicles for snow storms and cold weather. He also shared with me his emergency checklist and the importance of being emergency ready anytime, anywhere. Connecting with people of all backgrounds at outreach events truly allows me to see the importance of DEMA’s role in educating and sharing resources and information with all communities. 

It became clear to me that emergency kits could not compete with Smokey Bear’s popularity, as children rushed towards Smokey as soon as he arrived on the scene. Children, with smiles from ear-to-ear, gravitated towards Smokey, gave him hugs, and followed his every move. Even adults pulled out their cell phones to take a quick selfie with the lovable and furry forest fire awareness bear. Aside from greeting attendees, Smokey Bear also guided families to the DFFM booth where they could answer fire prevention trivia questions in exchange for prizes. DFFM representatives shared fire prevention tips, such as not parking where vegetation touches the underside of your vehicle as this can start fires. When driving, safety chains or other trailer equipment should be positioned correctly to avoid dragging. Dragging can cause sparks that create fires. To learn more about fire prevention tips, visit the AzEIN Wildfire information page. 

Participating in outreach events like the Family Festival in the Park is an important way for DEMA to connect with Arizona’s communities and to spread information that can prepare families in case of a disaster. Sharing empowering tips and encouraging others to inspire their community to take emergency readiness steps can be fun, especially if you have a furry friend like Smokey Bear by your side.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Prepare yourself for the Arizona winter

A snowy road in northern Arizona.
Winter in Arizona is a tricky thing. It might be sunny and 75 degrees in Phoenix and snowing and 28 degrees in Flagstaff. Or it can be a balmy 85 degrees one day and a chilly 55 degrees the next. Our diverse climate means that we need to be prepared no matter where we live or where we are going to travel.

With that in mind, my family was planning a quick trip up North last weekend. Our plan was to spend Thanksgiving day in Prescott Valley, spend the night in Sedona and then travel to Flagstaff the following day.

I knew that we needed to be prepared for a range of weather and temperatures. We packed clothes that could be layered for warmth. We also brought gloves and hats.

One of the things I always do before a road trip is to ensure my car is in tip-top shape. It had just been serviced, so I checked that off my list. Always make sure your car is ready for a long trip – fluids are at the right levels, brakes and lights work, tires are properly inflated (as well as your spare – I had a flat spare once when I needed it, but that’s a whole different story), windshield wipers are functional, full tank of gas, etc.

I keep an emergency supplies kit in my car that changes with the seasons. I pulled it out to check the contents. Inside the kit was:
  • flashlight with extra batteries
  • first aid kit
  • pocket knife
  • battery powered radio
  • matches
  • tool kit (pliers, screwdriver, wrench)
  • jumper cables
  • emergency blankets
  • fleece blanket
  • plastic bags
  • duct tape
  • gloves and hats
  • granola bars
  • water packs
  • bright cloth (for a distress flag)
  • newspaper

And even though there was no call for snow, I threw in a small bag of kitty litter and a small shovel. I can’t help it. I like to be prepared. A phone charger and tissues are always in my car as well.

The morning before we headed out, I packed a bag with games and activities for my daughter, and extra snacks and bottles of water for each of us. We checked the weather to see if anything had changed (a storm was supposed to come later in the weekend), and we were off.

As we headed up Interstate-17 on the bright and sunny Thanksgiving morning, my daughter said she wished it would snow so much that we would be trapped in Sedona for a week. While that certainly sounds lovely to a six year old, I did not agree. I thought about how we would need to get extra food, water and medicine. If you live in an area (or are planning to visit) where you could get enough snow to keep you there for a few days, you need to be prepared. Make sure you have enough food, water and other supplies to last at least three days (more if you know a large storm system is coming). And if the power goes out, you should have contingency plans to keep safe and warm.

Our weekend was full of chilly morning hikes and fun with the family. No 24-inches of snow, icy roads or busted pipes. Our biggest concern was where to find a meal in Sedona at 7:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night that didn’t consist of turkey.

The Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN) has many more winter preparation and safety tips. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Caring for our Health Community through Emergency Preparedness

Representing DEMA at the
AHCCCS Health Fair
When state departments, agencies, and private sector partners come together for one common goal, positive change in our community is inevitable. This type of community-driven collaboration is what took place during the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) Health Fair, an information fair for AHCCCS employees to learn about various state resources and private sector services that can benefit their lives and the lives of their families. I had the opportunity to represent the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) during this event. AHCCCS employees asked me questions like, “What does DEMA do?” and “Who is DEMA?” Through these friendly conversations, I had the chance to share DEMA’s mission and bring exposure to the beneficial resources DEMA provides to Arizonans.

Our inviting table set-up was complete with brochures, informational material, and eye-catching DEMA displays. What caught the most attention was our bright red emergency supplies kit. People curiously peered inside the bag to see what items were tucked away. I was happy to hear the positive feedback and smiled when mothers and fathers mentioned they would prepare bags for their children and their homes. Attendees were surprised to learn that everyday items such as a can opener or cash would be critical during an emergency. They were even more amazed as they thought through the multiple uses of duct tape during an emergency situation.
DEMA Waterproof
Document Holder

One of the give-aways was an emergency supplies checklist. Our checklist reminds you to include these items in your emergency supplies kit:
  • nonperishable foods (e.g., formula and pet food
  • potable water (one gallon per person, per day)
  • prescription medications and eyeglasses
  • flashlight(s) with extra batteries
  • first aid kit
  • battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • personal hygiene items (e.g., hand sanitizer and travel-size toiletries)
  • important paperwork (e.g., passports and insurance policies)
  • cash (e.g., small bills and loose change)
  • manual can opener
  • cell phone and charger
  • wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • plastic sheeting and duct tape
  • DEMA Waterproof
    Document Holder
  • copy of your family communication plan
Another popular item that attendees found useful was our DEMA waterproof clear bags. These bags can hold important documents and medications. Waterproof containers are essential for keeping your important items in one centralized location and also keeping them safe. Consider using a waterproof container for your important materials

Coming together with other organizations throughout the state to share resources and to educate our communities on how to live healthy and safe lives was a meaningful experience. Outreaches are essential to the work we do at DEMA to serve Arizona and I am pleased to have had this opportunity to participate.