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Thursday, May 12, 2016

A bad day in Pima County - it’s all about perception

Today’s blog comes from Sandra Espinoza, the South Region Field Coordinator for the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. Her area of responsibility includes the three international border counties of Yuma, Santa Cruz and Cochise as well as Graham and Greenlee. Ms. Espinoza works to enhance collaboration with primary stakeholders to include local, county, federal and tribal partners. During emergencies and disasters 

Ms. Espinoza operates as the State Liaison Officer facilitating coordinated response and recovery operations.
Ms. Espinoza’s Emergency Management experience spans over a decade in various capacities and jurisdictional levels. She most recently served Interim Emergency Management Administrator for the Tohono O’odham Nation where she was responsible for all administrative and management functions. 

Victims during exercise
Photo by: Pima County

What if I told you there was an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) that detonated in downtown Tucson?  You’d most likely feel a tug of the heart, a sinking feeling in your stomach and anxiety, followed by an unquenchable desire to know what happened.  Your mind would go reeling.  For first responders it’s no different.  The difference is their unraveled commitment to excellence.  They train day in and day out to be at the ready, regardless of the call.  It’s demonstrated in their physical fitness, physiological maturity, and continued drive to improve. 

On May 4 in Pima County, the tireless efforts of planning to test the elite came to fruition during a full scale exercise.  A full scale exercise simulates a plausible scenario created in an operational environment and is designed to call upon personnel that would normally respond to such an event/incident.  It allows those participating to validate plans and procedures, clarifying roles and responsibilities, measure performance objectives and coordinate with other teams, organizations and jurisdictions. 

From a hazardous materials incident staged in the Town of Sahuarita to a terrorist incident in the Town of Marana, first responders proved to be at the ready.  Multiple jurisdictions, hospitals, educational institutions, businesses, agencies, non-governmental organizations and members of the community joined to test our readiness.  

For some, it was an opportunity to grasp a greater understanding of what first responders do as they simulated responding to an injured victim.   The players put their teams, plans and protocols to the test.  Evaluators at various locations were tasked to observe and document performance.  Controllers managed the exercise play at each site while ensuring the safety of everyone involved.  Needless to say, it was all pulled together with support staff that performed administrative and logistical support tasks during the exercise. 

I had the opportunity of being stationed at the Pima County Emergency Operations Center (PCEOC). The Pima County Emergency Operation Plan describes the PCEOC as “the primary hub for [Pima] County’s incident management, operational coordination and situational awareness in county-wide disasters or emergencies.”
For this simulated activation, I had a “bird’s eye view” of the entire exercise.  Upon arrival at the PCEOC, I checked in with the EOC Manager and made my way to an available work station. The PCEOC is a state-of-the art facility with more than 60 work stations and several breakout rooms.  Staff called upon to support EOC activities are enabled with the tools and resources required for optimal situational awareness. 

I sat at my station mentally reviewing what was happening where, current and possible impacts, where are the shortfalls, and most importantly how can I contribute to the resolve.  Utilizing WebEOC, I was able to monitor events occurring at the various venue locations.  Personnel assigned to an EOC traditionally utilize checklists which serve as a guide and reminder of action items to be taken in support of the event.  In utilizing my checklist, I am always mindful of “checking the box”.  Do what you do meaningfully and be conscious that your actions or in-actions have an impact. 
Town of Marana airport briefing.
Photo by: Town of Marana

After the exercise those involved at the various venues conducted a “hot wash”.  A hot wash is held to review the events of the day, highlight what went well, and discuss what were the areas of opportunity to improve.  This information is then gathered by the Exercise Director and compiled to publish an After Action Report (AAR).  The AAR highlights observations of the exercise and documents recommendations for areas of improvements.   

The simulated “bad day” in Pima County was filled with opportunity to hone skills and continue to strive for a better tomorrow. 

Today is an opportunity for you to look internally and answer the question “Are you Ready”?  Make a plan; get a Kit, stay informed and be ready Arizona.  Someone is counting on you.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week is March 27-April 2, 2016

Today’s blog comes from Michelle Fidler, National Park Service Fire Communication and Education Specialist.

March 27 through April 2 is Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Where We Live, How We Live, Living with Wildfire.”  The focus of the week is to increase awareness and to promote actions that reduce the risk from wildfire to homes and communities.

Preventing Wildfires is Everyone’s Responsibility

As you head outdoors this spring, be sure to keep these fire prevention tips in mind:

·         Before going hiking or camping, check with public land management agencies for fire regulations, restrictions or area closures. Visit or call the toll-free Southwest Fire Restrictions Hotline at 1-877-864-6985 for more information.

·         Only make campfires in designated areas. Ensure it is fully extinguished before you leave the area. Douse fire with water and dirt, and stir with a shovel until completely cold to the touch. (Watch a video on dousing a campfire.)

·         If using a portable stove, set it up in an area clear of grasses and other fine fuels. Prevent stoves from tipping and starting a fire.

·         Cigarettes should never be thrown out the window of a vehicle. Place cigarette remains in in order to prevent wildfires. 

·         Practice Leave No Trace principles--pack out cigarette butts and burned materials from your camping area.

·         Never park a vehicle over dead grass; the catalytic converter can ignite the vegetation.

·         Always secure tow chains so they don't drag. One spark can cause a wildfire.

For more tips on preventing wildfires, visit and

Are you Ember Aware?

Here in Arizona, wildfires can happen any time of year. It’s not if, but when the next wildfire will occur. During a wildfire, thousands of embers can rain down on your roof and pelt the side of your home like hail during a storm. Depending on fire intensity, wind speed and the size of materials burning, embers can be carried more than a mile ahead of the fire. If just one of these embers become lodged in something easy to ignite on or near your house, your home will be in jeopardy of burning.

The foothills, grasslands and mountains of Arizona are all fire-prone environments. If you live in these areas, your first defense against wildfire is to create and maintain survivable space around your home. Your roof and the vegetation around your house are key factors in determining whether or not your house will survive a wildfire.

Seven Things You Can Do to Help Protect Your Home from Wildfire

1.     Use fire-resistant construction matrials to deter embers. Replace wood roofs with fire-resistant Class A roofing materials. Plug openings in roof with non-combustible materials. Windows should be multiple-pane, tempered-glass. Cover eaves and vents with 1/8-inch wire mesh. Fill gaps in siding with a good quality caulk. Wooden decks and fences should have a non-combustible section against the house.

2.     Create survivable space around your house. Thin and prune tress within 125 feet of your home. Remove branches that overhang the roof. Ensure tress or clumps of trees are spaced 20 feet apart at the canopy to help prevent flames from traveling through the tree tops.

3.     Use fire-resistant vegetation within 30 feet of structures. Replace wood mulches with non-combustible types and remove dead plant debris next to the house and any wooden fences. Move woodpiles away from the home.

4.     Remove leaves and pine needles from your roof, gutters and deck. Plant debris could easily be ignited by flying embers.

5.     Prune shrubs, cut gass and remove weeds regularly. Remove excess growth as well as dead leaves and branches to decrease their flammability and the threat they could pose during a wildland fire.

6.     Remove “ladder fuel.” Pruce tree limbs so the lowest is 6 to10 feet from the ground. Fire burning through tall, dry grass could ignite lower limbs and climb to the top of the tree with relative ease.

7.     Ensure garden hoses and gas-powered equipment are in good repair. Hoses develop leaks and deteriorate with age and exposure. During fire season, fuel your lawn mower away from dry, flammable grass.

For more tips on preparing for wildfire, visit and

For current fire information, wiildfire preventions and preparenedss tips, and restrictions and closures information throughout the year, visit and follow @wildlandfireAZ.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Creating an emergency supplies kit on a budget

The holidays have passed us by; it is a new year and many people have set goals for 2016. One goal that’s easy to keep is to update or create an emergency supplies kit. If one of your goals was to save money, don’t worry, making a kit doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

An emergency supplies kit should contain three days worth of supplies for each person in your family, including pets if you have them. Your kit should include water, food, medications, first aid, flashlights, batteries, radio, hygiene items, and other personal items you may need.  

Buy mindfully:
ü  Save money by purchasing water, canned soups, meats, fruits and vegetables in bulk at wholesale stores.
ü   Buy generic items: they cost less than name brands. 
ü  Look for coupons in the paper or online before you go the grocery store. 
ü   Buy batteries, flashlights, tissues and other supplies at the local dollar store.

Other ways to save:

ü  Reuse older items. Store jacket and blankets you don't use anymore in your kit.
ü   Set aside a couple of dollars each week and add to your kit at the end of the month. 
ü  Hang onto the travel-sized items you get on trips (shampoo, toothpaste, soap, etc.) and put them in your kit. 
ü   Request a free road map from your local department of transportation. 
ü   Store copies of important documents in a freezer bag.Freezer bags protect from water and dust and are much cheaper than expensive document protectors. 

Go a couple steps further and be completely prepared for an emergency or disaster:

ü  Write a communications plan identifying a family meeting place, evacuation routes, important phone numbers and an out-of-town contact.
ü   Know the risks in your community (wildfire, flood, etc.) and make sure you are properly insured for any events.
ü  Be a preparedness example for others. Give blood or take a first aid course

For more information on these steps and to learn about Arizona’s potential hazards, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN) at

Monday, November 9, 2015

When the ground shakes in Arizona

Earthquake locations on Nov. 1, 2015.
Photo by: AZGS
Three earthquakes rattled the Arizona landscape not too long ago. The strongest registered a magnitude of 4.1. It was enough to get everyone talking about the chances of a larger magnitude earthquake striking Arizona. 

Coincidently, the Arizona Department of Emergency andMilitary Affairs (DEMA) hosted a statewide exercise three days later focused on responding to an earthquake. We exercise regularly in emergency management as a way to ensure we are prepared for potential emergencies. Exercising different scenarios provides participating agencies an opportunity to test and evaluate plans, procedures and capabilities in response to an event.

The earthquake scenario was chosen after DEMA’s exercise branch reviewed prior exercises and discussed the potential for different disasters. Realizing an earthquake exercise hadn’t been done in recent years, the team worked with the Arizona Geological Survey to fill in necessary details such as the potential strength and location of an earthquake.

Arizona has active faults across the state. The Lake Mary and Hurricane faults lie in northern Arizona. The Algodones and Santa Rita faults are in the southern part of the state. The Big Chino Fault runs through central Arizona, and the Safford Fault is in the eastern portion of our state. These faults are capable of producing earthquakes that range from magnitude 6.0 to 7.5. Earthquakes that strong can cause severe damage.

DEMA invited multiple state and county agencies to participate in the exercise as well as non-governmental and volunteer partners. More than 75 agencies participated in the one-day exercise.

The exercise began and 6 a.m. when a notional earthquake struck near Paulden, Ariz. in Yavapai County. Yavapai County began their response at that time.

Inside the SEOC Nov. 4. 1015
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, I received a call at 7:45 a.m. to attend a meeting.  DEMA decision makers were huddled in a room, gathering what information they needed from Yavapai County in order to make a determination as to whether needed to activate the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC).

The SEOC, located at Papago Park Military Reservation, coordinates the State response to emergencies and disasters. When an incident occurs, representatives from multiple agencies gather at the SEOC to work side-by-side.

The SEOC allows representatives from transportation, law enforcement, health, military, volunteer agencies, and more, to work closely together during the response and recovery process of an incident.

The decision was made to activate the SEOC pretty quickly after hearing about the strength of the quake and the initial damage reports.

We broke from the meeting and I headed back to my desk. Five minutes later, I got an automated call from state communicator system, which directed me to report to the SEOC. I gathered my laptop, notebook and coffee, and walked to the SEOC.

I was the Lead Public Information Officer (PIO) during the exercise. My responsibilities were to coordinate and implement communication strategies, write media advisories and news releases as needed, respond to media inquires, issue timely and accurate information, and attend meetings to ensure current knowledge of situation.

Inside the SEOC Nov. 4, 2015
As I sat in the SEOC, working on a fictitious news release about Governor Ducey declaring a state of emergency, I listened to the conversations around me: representatives from the Arizona Department of Transportation and Maricopa County discussed roads and bridges; Civil Air Patrol and National Guard planned flights to the scene to get aerial images; and Red Cross and DEMA Recovery determined sheltering needs. It was clear that the SEOC was running as it should with response and recovery efforts under way to assist the affected community and its people. 

The exercise ended around 3 p.m., after the SEOC had coordinated many plans of action, mapped the damage, posted electronic signs and closed roads, received photos of the area, allocated resources and personnel, and shared a lot of information.

The real earthquakes and the exercise are good reminders that we need to prepare for disasters, no matter how infrequent. Make sure your family communication plan is updated with important phone numbers, an out-of-town contact, and evacuation plans. Double-check that your emergency supplies kit is well stocked with enough food, water and supplies to last at least three days. For more preparedness tips, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

ShakeOut - Coming to a home, school or business near you

Today’s blog comes from Dr. Mike Conway, Chief of the Geologic Extension Service of the Arizona Geological Survey. Dr. Conway is a volcanologist with an expertise in small-volume basaltic systems, such as the San Francisco volcanic field near Flagstaff, Ariz. Mike has worked at the Arizona Geological Survey since 2007.  Prior to that, he was a Professor of Earth Sciences at Arizona Western College for nearly a decade. He received his Ph.D. from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich.

Twenty million two hundred thousand and counting! That’s the number of people enrolled, so far, in the Great ShakeOut, ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On’, earthquake preparedness exercise scheduled for Oct. 15, 2015.

People from 40 U.S. States, U.S. territories, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Colombia and Italy, among others, are taking part in ShakeOut 2015. California leads all participating states with over 10,000,000 people registered.  More than 73,000 people are registered, including more than 40,000 school-age children, and 20,000 university students and faculty, to participate in the Great Arizona ShakeOut.

So why ShakeOut in Arizona? Because large and small magnitude earthquakes are a common occurrence in the western U.S. A small magnitude earthquake feels like a sudden jolt and the ground shaking lasts for a mere second or two. But the ground shaking that accompanies a larger magnitude earthquake – say a magnitude 7 - can last for more than a minute and collapse bridges, damage buildings, destroy roads, and injure or kill people.

In Arizona, large magnitude earthquakes are rare. But they can occur, and just as importantly they happen with greater frequency in surrounding states – California, Utah and Nevada – and Mexico. Yuma, has a population of 100,000 and is located just 60 miles east of the San Andreas Fault system--one of North America’s most active and dangerous faults. “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” is  a strategy employed by Yumans to minimize injuries and stay safe.

We cannot predict when or where the next major earthquake will happen. The science is simply not there, and it’s not even close. But we know where major fault systems lie, and we know what areas are more likely to be impacted by severe ground shaking. Our first, best strategy is to prepare our families, homes and business for the impact of a large earthquake through drills and exercises like the Great Arizona ShakeOut.

Kids ShakeOut 2012
Please join the Arizona Geological Survey and the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, and 73,000 of your neighbors in participating in the Great Arizona ShakeOut at 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 15.

Some online resources:
·         The AZGS YouTube channel has earthquake and fault videos, including a 90-second, time-lapse video and a webisode titled “Earthquakes in Arizona 1852-2011.”

·         Arizona is Earthquake Country” is a 44-page earthquake primer with maps, pictures and illustrations (8.5 Mb)