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Thursday, May 4, 2017

City of Phoenix engages community partners in disaster preparedness

On May 3, 2017, the City of Phoenix Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management led a preparedness exercise in partnership with organizations, including the American Red Cross, police and fire departments, and other government agencies.  Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs team members participated as “actors” playing the role of citizens evacuated from their homes to a shelter due to a mass power outage caused by a microburst during a sizzling summer.

We arrived at the shelter at the Paradise Valley Community Center and immediately took on the role of evacuees.  We were greeted and registered.  The registration process is critical to understanding each citizen’s needs and providing information to promote comfort and confidence.
The registration form, completed with an American Red Cross team member, captures evacuee information such as name and address, family members, and medical needs.  In my case, I required a prescription medication but I had forgotten to bring it.  Immediately after registration, the team member escorted me to the medical team, introduced me and explained my situation to them.  This personal “hand-off” between the American Red Cross team members is critical to helping the evacuee feel cared for and less anxious.  The nurses captured more details, assuring me that my medical information would not be shared with anyone unnecessarily.  Before I left  the nurses, I knew exactly how and when we were going to get my medication. 

After registration, each evacuee was given a meal ticket (water and snacks were readily available), blankets and a pillow, and a personal care package, which includes items such as a toothbrush, comb, shampoo and disposable shaver . 

Each evacuee was then taken to the sleeping area to choose a cot.  Cots can be moved, and families with youngsters tended to put their cots around the children to help them feel safe. 

For some, the cots were not practical due to physical limitations.  The American Red Cross had cots to accommodate these individuals.  Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members were available throughout the shelter to help people with any needs, any time.

What was most extraordinary was watching how individuals from all participating organizations handled chaos.  Some of the actors were distraught evacuees who were angry, frustrated, agitated and/or confused.  In my case, I was an adult daughter who had been separated from her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s in the evacuation process.  Another person was agitated because she was allergic to dogs, and a service dog was near her chosen cot.  Still another person let out a blood-curdling scream in the cafeteria because she was told that another evacuee’s pet tarantula was loose in the shelter.  In every case, team members responded immediately, and one person stayed with the evacuee until the situation was resolved while others sought out the solution. The evacuee was informed  comforted.  Team members remained composed and were able to keep other evacuees calm.

What did I learn? 
·         Individual preparedness is essential.  Make a list of what you and your family would require if you had to leave your home for several days, such as medications or medical equipment. Information on how to create a Family Communication Plan and how to build an emergency supplies kit is available on AzEIN

·         Our city has our backs and needs you.  The City of Phoenix effectively engages with the organizations and government agencies that are critical to optimizing the support offered to citizens in the event of a disaster.  However, more help is always needed, and CERT is a great way to get involved.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week is a time to prepare your property

Today’s blog comes from Michelle Fidler, National Park Service Fire Communication and Education Specialist.
March 26 - April 1, 2017 is Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Wildfire doesn’t have to be a disaster. Little things you do now will make a big difference.” The focus of the week is to increase awareness and to promote actions that reduce the risk from wildfire to homes and communities.

Here are seven simple steps you can take to prepare for wildfire:
  • Clear: Clear off pine needles, dead leaves and anything that can burn from your rooflines, gutters, decks, porches, patios and along fence lines. This way, falling embers will have nothing to burn.
  •  Store: Store away furniture cushions, rattan mats, potted plants and other decorations from decks, porches and patios. These items catch embers and help ignite your home if you leave them outside.
  • Screen & Seal: Wind-borne embers can get into your home easily through vents and other openings and burn your home from the inside out. Walk around your house to see what openings you can screen or temporarily seal up.
  • Rake: Embers landing in mulch that touches your house, deck or fence is a big fire hazard. Rake out any landscaping mulch to at least five feet away.
  • Trim: Trim back any shrubs or tree branches that come closer than five feet to the house and attachments, and any overhanging branches.
  • Remove: Walk around your house and remove anything within 30 feet that could burn, such as woodpiles, spare lumber, vehicles and boats— anything that can act as a large fuel source.
  •  Close: If ordered to evacuate, make sure you close all windows and doors tightly, and seal up any pet doors. Many homes are destroyed by embers entering these openings and burning the house from the inside out.

Become Fire Adapted

Wildfire is everyone’s responsibility. Being a fire adapted community means that everyone in the community, from homeowners and fire fighters, to land managers and civic leaders, does their part to prepare for the next wildfire.

Wildfire threat is a reality to over 70,000 communities across the United States. It’s not if, but when. Make sure your community is  prepared .

Damage from wildfire has far reaching impacts beyond a damaged neighborhood. We must all work together to become more fire adapted.

A fire adapted community is a knowledgeable and engaged community where the awareness and actions of residents regarding infrastructure, buildings, landscaping, and the surrounding ecosystem lessens the need for extensive protection actions and enables the community to safely accept fire as a part of the surrounding landscape.

June 10, 2016 38E fire
Photo by: AZ State Forestry
A public service announcement  video aims to empower residents to take these steps by reinforcing that “you can’t control where a wildfire ember will land— but you can control what happens when it does.” This is the reality many communities face when living with fire.

The fire adapted program encourages homeowners, land managers, community leaders and fire and emergency responders in these communities to visit to learn their role in reducing wildfire damage and steps to better prepare for a wildfire.

For more tips on preparing for wildfire, visit , and

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Students learn social media at Arizona Wildfire Academy

Arizona Wildfire Academy in Prescott, AZ
At first glance, government using social media might sound a little strange. You might think, “Why is my city government posting on Facebook?” or “Why is my state government tweeting?” In today’s tech age, it is undeniable that social media plays an integral role in information exchange and can be a powerful tool to create dialogue. As government entities search for  ways of serving citizens more efficiently and keeping them informed, departments like the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs are considering ways to digitally engage with stakeholders, partners, and the community. In order to communicate and serve the public effectively, government needs to go where the people are—and that is on social media.

Social Media Students 
The potential for informing, engaging, and inspiring constituents online is endless.  I recently learned this lesson  through a course on social media and incident response at the Arizona Wildfire Academy. During this course, it became evident to me that social media is not only a way of connecting with your community, but also a resource that can potentially help save lives and keep people safe.

Students Practice Filming on Facebook Live
This two-day crash course, taught by Michelle Fidler, National Park Service’s Fire Communication and Education Specialist, and Dolores Garcia, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management’s Public Affairs Specialist, was designed to give students an understanding of how to use platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter during wildfire emergencies. We practiced the basics from posting on timelines and creating pages to best practices regarding how to interact with followers during emergencies and how to monitor media for misinformation and rumor control. The diverse emergency management backgrounds of the students made for an interesting exchange of ideas, tips, and experiences. Some participants represented in-state agencies and departments such as, the Arizona Department of State Forestry and Fire Management, the National Weather Service Phoenix, and various fire departments. Students representing government agencies outside of Arizona also participated in the course and gave a unique out-of-state perspective.

Morning Briefings at the Academy
Now in its 15th year, the Arizona Wildfire Academy teaches a variety of courses on wildfire emergency response. During my time at the Academy, I learned that I was part of the 9,000 students that have gone through the program since its inception. Learning social media techniques and strategies was not only a chance for me to hone my skills as a Public Information Officer, but an opportunity to train alongside others who also work towards creating safer communities. Studying social media with emergency responders showed that beyond puppy dog videos and cooking recipes, social networks can be a place where important information regarding emergencies and preparedness can be shared with our families, friends, and communities.

For updates on incidents and fire preparedness information, visit these social media sites.
YouTube: AzEIN


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.