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Monday, October 24, 2016

First Day of Work--DEMA Style

On a normal first day of work, you might follow a typical routine—eat a hearty breakfast, drink a fresh cup of coffee, and wear your nicely pressed outfit to your new job. With your ready-to-tackle-the-workday mentality, you plan on making a good impression, learning policies, and completing HR trainings. To my surprise, my first day of work at the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) was everything but typical.

Now, to clarify, I did eat my breakfast of champions and put on my Sunday’s best, but at 8:00 a.m. I was already in full-fledged emergency drill mode, soaking up the excitement of emergency management. With curious eyes and an intrigued mind, I gathered with 40 DEMA staff officials in the State Emergency Operations Center for a practice drill. The scenario at hand was: “A helicopter has crashed at Papago Park Military Reservation near the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC). The area has been contaminated and the SEOC must be evacuated.”

We carefully ran through attendance and headed-off to the Pima County Emergency Operations Center in Tucson. With my emergency vest on, I was ready to execute an emergency plan that will be essential during a disaster situation. This was my first day on the job, and even within the first hour, I was more than certain that I had signed up for a meaningful and rewarding experience.
Practicing "Drop, Cover, and Hold On" for ShakeOut 2016

As a Public Information Officer (PIO) for DEMA, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work with a dedicated team of PIOs on preparing state-wide communications focused on emergency preparedness and hazard information. Reflecting on my first week on the job, I realize how much I learned about DEMA’s helpful resources and devoted staff. For example, I learned how to create a 72-hour emergency supplies kit and the need to consider essential items, such as a first aid kit, radio, flashlight, batteries, cash, cell phone charger, and copies of important documents. I also became informed on how to write an effective communications plan. I realized that detailing evacuation routes away from my home and an out-of-town contact in my communications plan will save me time, money, and resources if a disaster were to strike.

As a state department that recognizes the need to connect with Arizona’s diverse communities, I am also excited to contribute to DEMA’s Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN). AzEIN is a convenient online network used to share emergency management news and to educate Arizonans on how to prepare for all hazards. You can conveniently connect with AzEIN through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Through my new position, I look forward to serving Arizona and working with my talented colleagues at DEMA who have already shown me how much they truly care about collaborating with communities, government departments, and organizations to build a more prepared and emergency-ready Arizona. My a-typical first work day has certainly set the tone for more exciting opportunities at DEMA to come. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Practice evacuation drills at home and at work to encourage preparedness

“This is an exercise:  A helicopter has crashed at Papago Park Military Reservation near the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC). The area has been contaminated and the SEOC must be evacuated. Staff working in the SEOC should relocate to the Alternate EOC in Pima County. Please collect your go bags and prepare to depart.”

I hung up my phone after listening to the recorded message. The message marked the beginning of a relocation exercise at the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Division of Emergency Management.

I went to my office, gathered my belongings, including my go bag and headed out to the parking lot with 40 other DEMA employees. We checked in, received travel instructions, got into our assigned cars and headed down the I-10 to Tucson.

Small go kit on left;
emergency supplies kit center and right
A go kit is a miniature version of an emergency supplies kit. For us in emergency management, we
all keep a bag with three days worth of personal supplies – clothes, toiletries, medicine, shoes, etc. in our cars or office. The go bag is important when we get the call to assist and can’t go home. If we need to leave immediately, we have with some personal supplies on hand.

I was the Communications person in the car, meaning I had to radio our status to the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) while en route to our destination. Having a radio for back-up communication is key to ensuring connectivity during an emergency. The radio check-ins also allowed DEMA personnel to practice using the radios in a non-emergency situation.

Think about your family communication plan. Has your family talked about different forms of communication you can use to stay in touch during an emergency? What would you do if phone lines went down, were busy, or your cell phone died? Would text messages or email work? Or could you use two way radios as we did in our exercise?

The Pima County Emergency Operations Center
Upon arrival at the Alternate EOC in Pima County, we sat down at work stations and practiced logging in to our web-based communications program, WebEOC. The Alternate EOC allows DEMA staff to continue working if the SEOC is unusable. In emergency management, we plan for a variety of disasters and emergencies. Having an inaccessible EOC is a very real possibility. Practicing relocating will make an actual relocation easier because staff has practiced the steps.  

Have you written an evacuation plan if you have to leave your house? Have you identified two meeting places for your family, one near your home and one outside the neighborhood?

Before heading back to the SEOC, we held a hot wash, a discussion of what went well and what didn’t go so well during the exercise. A hot wash is an important part of any exercise to gather information that can be assembled into an After Action Report. The exercise and planning team will review all comments and make changes to the relocation plan, improving it for the next use.

For more preparedness tips, visit AzEIN.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

ShakeOut reminds people to Drop, Cover and Hold On

Before I moved to Arizona, I lived in California and Washington. When I was very young in California, I rolled out of bed one night.  I woke up after hitting the floor and , looked up in surprise to see my mom standing over me. When I asked what happened, she said that there had been an earthquake and we needed to crawl under the table. We sat there for a few minutes and then moved into the dining room with my dad and brother. My brother and I peppered my parents with questions about earthquakes, and shared all that we had learned at school about what to do during an earthquake.

In my first grade class, we held earthquake drills. We would crawl under our desks, curl into little balls, cover our necks with our hands, and wait until our teacher said to come out.

The next earthquake I recall was in Washington. I was in my late teens and working in a restaurant. While carrying a tray of food to a table, I stumbled. At first I wondered what I tripped on, but then I noticed that the ceiling lights were swinging back and forth. I froze for a moment, wondering if it would get worse. I put my tray down and crawled under a table with others to wait it out. The earthquake was over as quickly as it began and we all got back to work.

An earthquake is not a hazard most Arizonans think about. They worry about getting through the blistering summer, potential floods and wildfires. However, many were reminded that we do have earthquakes in Arizona last November (2015) when three earthquakes shook the ground across the northern part of the state, with the strongest being a magnitude 4.1.

Active faults run across all parts of Arizona. The Hurricane and Lake Mary Faults run across northern Arizona. The Big Chino Fault is in central Arizona, the Safford Faults  in the eastern part of our state, and the Algondones and Santa Rita Faults run across parts of southern Arizona.

With the potential for earthquakes to affect all of us, it is important to practice what to do during an earthquake. An easy way to do so is to participate in the Great Arizona ShakeOut on October 20 at 10:20 a.m. It’s an easy way to practice Drop, Cover and Hold On. Last year, 74,000 Arizonans participated. Register your family or business and at 10:20 a.m., have everyone drop to the ground, cover their head and neck with their arms and hold on to something study, like a table, if possible.

Before October 20th, prepare your home and your family. Ensure your family communication plan is up-to-date. Include an out-of-town contact and an evacuation plan. Prepare your 72-hour emergency supplies kit (three days worth of food, water and other necessities). Remove any heavy objects that may be over a bed, or above furniture people sit on. Secure heavy objects to the wall so they can’t fall over.

The Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN) has preparedness tips and information about other Arizona hazards.

The Arizona Geological Survey created an interactive website, the AZGS natural hazard viewer, which features four Arizona hazards. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Are you Prepared?

September is a busy month in emergency management, dedicated to encouraging people to prepare for potential emergencies and disasters. National Preparedness Month is celebrated nationwide, and in Arizona, Governor Ducey proclaimed it Arizona Preparedness Month.

Here at the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), we like to take a little extra time to remind people to prepare now for the emergencies that could affect them at home or work. We make preparedness easy by suggesting small steps  to be prepared.

Writing a family communication plan is the first step. The plan (download a fill-in-the-blank form here) identifies how your family will stay in touch if not together when a disaster happens. By writing down important phone numbers (cell, home, work, doctor, pharmacy, veterinarian, an out-of-town contact) all family members with have what they need at their fingertips.  Include (and practice) an evacuation plan and identify places in the neighborhood where your family should meet in an emergency.

Every household needs an emergency supplies kit, three days worth of food, water, medicine and other necessities. Your kit should have a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, along with a manual can opener. 

Don’t forget the special needs of your family, whether it’s diapers and baby formula or dog and cat food.  
Don’t know where to begin with your kit? Check out DEMA’s emergency supplies checklist.

Get to know your area and find out what hazards could happen in your neighborhood and where you work.

Arizona experiences up to 100 floods each year across the state, not just near river basins or bodies of water. Every county in Arizona has experienced flooding, so find out where flooding has happened (or could happen) near you.

This year, DEMA’s Public Information Office created a flood awareness campaign to educate Arizonans about their risk of being affected by floods, regardless of the time of year. The light-hearted campaign shows people going about their everyday activities and being surprised by a deluge of flood waters. The campaign is not only meant to encourage preparedness, but for people to be aware of the impact flooding may have on them, their family or their business.

The Flood Safe AZ website provides preparedness tips, shares the cost of flooding based on water levels, and helps residents determine if they live in a flood zone.

To view the campaign, visit

Monday, June 13, 2016

Is there such a thing as a typical monsoon season?

Today’s blog comes from Ken Waters, NationalWeather Service’s Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Phoenix Office. Ken has been with the NWS for 20 years including stints in Guam, Texas, and Hawaii. 

Previously Ken had a career as a Weather Officer for the U.S. Air Force and served much of his career in the Pacific. Ken has a Masters Degree in Meteorology from Florida State University and a Bachelors Degree in Biology from Whittier College. In his spare time Ken is an avid genetic genealogist as well as software and hardware developer of electronic sensors.
Monsoon Sunset
Photo by: Bryan Snider

Every year I look forward to the part of the year where Arizona gets its most active weather. Of course we know it as the monsoon. That's when the prevailing winds shift substantially, bringing north into the state a large amount of humid air. The increase in moisture is undeniable. We all feel it as soon as we step outside. It can be reflected in a jump in dew point temperatures, often from 40 degrees up to 70 degrees.
Dew points are probably the best way to measure moisture and, when combined with temperature, can yield the relative humidity. Meteorologists regularly monitor dew points; specifically, changes in dew points to measure the moisture surge as it typically moves north from the Mexican state of Sonora into first, southern Arizona, and later into the rest of the state. Typically this moisture surge occurs during the latter part of June for the southern portion of the state, and about the first week of July for the Phoenix area.
The primary impact we see from the monsoon is an increase in thunderstorm activity, particularly over the higher mountainous portions of the state, including the Mogollon Rim, the Mazatzal Mountains, the White Mountains, and the Santa Catalina Mountains. The daily ritual starts with puffy cumulus clouds forming over the highest peaks late in the morning. The afternoon sun warms the atmosphere causing these clouds to build into thunderstorms. If upper atmospheric winds are favorable then these thunderstorms can be pushed down into the lower parts of the desert around late afternoon and early evening.
Radar showing Monsoon
Image by: NWS/NOAA
So, what is a typical monsoon season? Well, in fact, there really is no such thing. If anything the monsoon season is characterized by variation. Variation can be measured day-to-day as the monsoon moisture surge comes and goes, typically in about 3-day cycles where the dew points jump up into the 70s for a few days only to return to drier 50s for a few days. Variation also occurs from year-to-year with some years being dominated by severe dust storms such as 2011, and others with large numbers of severe thunderstorms such as 2008. Lastly, there's the spatial variation. It's commonplace to have some locations get a large amount of rain and flooding from a single storm or set of storms, only to have a location just a few miles away stay dry.
From a statistical standpoint, the National Weather Service measures monsoon seasons using a few fixed points - such as Sky Harbor Phoenix airport. This location has been supplying weather data for over 100 years, so it can show some sense of year-to-year variation. However, the airport often may not be representative of the monsoon season for other areas, such as the Valley or State as a whole.  Even measuring the monsoon season can be tricky as it depends on where you are. We do have some other ways  to measure the season by averaging a number of points such as with the National Weather Service's Phoenix Rainfall Index, or PRI.
Bottom line on the monsoon is it will happen every year, and will occur sometime during the pre-declared
Monsoon flood in Wickenburg
Photo by: Rick Delaney
monsoon season of June 15 to September 30. The best we can do is to prepare for it:
  • Monitor media and government weather information on a daily basis during the season.
  • Don't drive across normally dry washes that have water flowing.
  • Avoid dangerous dust storms while driving; but if caught in one, pull over and turn the lights off.
  • Watch out for, and stay away from downed power lines.
  • Heed cell phone alerts for dust storms and flash floods.
Visit for preparedness tips and hazard information.