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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Planning a Summit is Hard Work

Today’s blog comes from Joseph Urrea, the Tribal Liaison for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. Joe has over 13 years of emergency management experience. He has worked with the Native American Tribes and various Indian Health Service agencies in Arizona in all phases of emergency management--preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Joe is sharing his experience planning a Tribal Summit.

And it Begins... February 9

A little over a month ago I was asked to present a Tribal Emergency Management update at an Arizona Department of Health Service (ADHS) Public Health Emergency Preparedness event scheduled later this year. I jumped at the chance and said absolutely!

Five weeks later I’m holding the first internal planning meeting for an all-day event that I’m now planning–yikes!

For the meeting today, I’ll ask each section to discuss what they do to assist the Tribes in Arizona and explain to everyone who I’ve already contacted to speak (State Representatives and Senator McCain, Gila River, Salt River Pima-Maricopa).  I hope this is a good meeting and folks walk away excited about the Summit.
Arizona Senator Carlyle Begay

Agenda, Agenda, Agenda – What’s an Agenda again? February 13

I just confirmed that David Cramer from Phoenix Indian Health Services (IHS) and the ADHS Tribal Preparedness Liaison, Luke Johnson, will both present for ADHS. This means that I have at least four speakers, two Tribal legislative updates (one State based and one Federal), and DEMA presentations for the day. Once I work in a lunch and adjust to include time for a Listening Session (a communication tool that places emphasis on listening to others – not talking at or to them but engaging in careful, concentrated, active listening) it looks like we’ll have a full day!

Now to figure out the agenda - do I want the ADHS presenters to go first and then have Gila River and Salt River Pima-Maricopa at the end of the day or vice-versa? Where would the DEMA presentations fit? Will an hour be enough time for the Tribal legislative updates? Do I need to have a working lunch? I want to open the meeting with a traditional opening invocation from a local Tribe – what is the protocol to do this? Would all the Tribes in attendance be receptive to an invocation prayer from another Tribe? Which Tribe is the correct Tribe to do this? Am I missing a group to speak? Why did I agree to do this again?

How Hard is it to Write an Invitation Letter? Really Hard! March 6

Right after the first internal planning meeting for the Tribal Emergency Management Summit back on February 9, I started working on the formal invitation letter to go out to all of our Tribal Emergency Manager partners, as well as the 12 Tribal Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinators. I figured I’d start working on this right away so it would be done and I would have one less thing to worry about. After kicking around a few drafts in mid-February, I sent one out for review.

Today I received the final approved letter. Among the things that I have learned is the following:
1) I used the wrong letterhead;
2) I used the wrong letter format;
3) I placed the signature in the wrong place;
4) Invitation language wasn’t “quite right” for an official invitation;
5) In short, I don’t know how to write an invitation letter.

DEMA Planning Meeting – Take Two March 9

Today is the second (and hopefully final) internal planning meeting for the Tribal Emergency Management Summit. This meeting will focus on the latest changes to the agenda (still in development) and a review of an outline of the proposed DEMA section presentations.

I want the presentations to focus on the direct services that we offer our Tribal partners – training and exercise assistance, mitigation plan assistance, grant preparedness, recovery operations, and others. I’m also hoping to get some success stories from these services to demonstrate how everyone has benefitted from the DEMA programs.

Overall pretty straight-forward stuff and it should be e-a-s-y. Meeting will run 30-minutes tops! Keep telling yourself that…

What if I Plan a Party and No One Comes? March 18

I want to make sure all the Tribes and external agencies received the invitation to attend the Summit. I decided to call everyone I haven’t heard from to extend a personal invitation to attend. I’m getting a lot of people who are planning on attending–looks like we are up to 15 tribes and over 60 people! This is great because my understanding is that we have never had nearly this many tribal representatives attend in the past.

Paperwork? Um, What Paperwork? March 19

In order for this to be eligible for ADHS funding I need to write a scope of work. Reaching into my bag of tricks, I have found one that will hopefully meet their grant reporting needs. So long as I demonstrate how this will benefit the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Coordinators by referencing their various grant requirements and tying them to the various presentations we should be good to go.

Who Plans an Out-of-State Week-long Trip a Month Before an Event? Oh Yeah, I Do… March 22

I’m at Sky Harbor Airport at 5:30 a.m. about to leave for a week to go to the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the Summit is less than a month away. I keep asking myself a single question--what was I thinking?!? I have so much to do–I’ll work on it every night and make sure we stay on track. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do…

The Best Laid Plans March 30

It’s the Monday after my week at EMI. All told, I probably spent 2 hours last week working on the Summit.
Somehow, it feels like everything is right on track. Could this be true? Am I stressing for no reason? Probably not, but denial is a great coping strategy.

Day Before the Summit and the Nervous Energy is Kickin’ In… April 20

Okay--presentations are on the USB key. Handouts are printed and will get stuffed into the folders tonight at home with my wife (Lil) helping me out–just have to ask her to help me out when I walk in the house.

Despite my checklist being checked multiple times, I am still worried that I’ll forget something tomorrow. This is usually how I get before an event. I think it will go off tomorrow without a hitch. If necessary, I will stop by the office in the morning.

As I try to sleep, I’m starting to think about next year’s event. Hold it at the same time of the year? Who else should we invite? Should we get more State agencies to attend? I need to talk to more of our Tribal partners about presentations for next year ... maybe a facilitated discussion during lunch? Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Is it Over Already? April 21

It’s just after 7pm when I walk through the front door. The dogs are all over me, tails wagging and noses sniffing
 my cart with tons of curiosity about where I was and what I brought home. Lil asked me how the day went and I told her that I think it went well. “We had over 70 people attend, 13 Tribes were represented, multiple State and Federal agencies, good networking, didn’t run out of food, and the facility was great!” She smiles and says “Good for you.”

I wander into the kitchen and grab a Coke. I plop down in a chair in the living room and start to read the Participant Feedback Form comments. I grab a pencil and a notepad so I can write down some of the comments. As I read them, I tell myself I have to find a way to incorporate these in so next year’s summit is even better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Prepare for Arizona’s Hot Summer

I moved to Arizona in the middle of the summer of 1996, during Monsoon season. I can still remember the first time I stepped out of the car outside of my uncle’s house in Phoenix, Heat waves rising off of the pavement. What did I get myself into, I wondered. I was a girl from the Pacific Northwest, where summer high temperatures ran about 75 to 80 degrees. Here it was a blazingly hot and humid 112 degrees.

I immediately entered my uncle’s house and did not come out again until early evening when dark storm clouds had rolled in and the wind picked up. As I sat on the back patio watching lightning dart across the sky, I once more wondered what I had gotten into.

The next day another storm rolled in with wind gusts hitting 60 mph. Power lines were toppled across the valley, knocking out our power. My Uncle and I spent the early part of the day sitting in the pool in the shade of a tree. As the day heated up, we packed ourselves into the car and headed to a restaurant with power for lunch. We then went to the movies, hoping our power would be restored by the time the movie was over.

My first summer in Arizona was one of the only times that I've had to deal with a power outage during the summer. A few years ago, when the Valley reached a record temperature of more than 120 degrees, my husband, daughter and I headed to the movie theater. It was even too hot to play in our pool that day.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in partnership with many local, county and state officials are running a HEAT campaign May 18 to  23 to remind people to Stay Cool, Stay Hydrated, and Stay Informed. HEAT stands for Hydrate, Environment/Weather, Awareness, Take Action.

Hydrate: I drink a lot of water. In the summer I drink even more water. During the hot months, I don’t go anywhere without one of my many canteen water bottles in tow. The Arizona Department of Health Services recommends people to drink at least two liters of water during the day. If outdoors, drink 1 – 2 liters for every hour you are outside. The National Weather Service HEAT site has more hydration tips and an app to find hydration stations.

Environment: It may be hard for some people to believe, but heat can kill. The NWS issues Excessive Heat Watches and Warnings during Arizona’s hot summer months. Know what they mean. Plan your days accordingly to limit time spent outdoors.

Awareness: Beat the heat by staying informed of extreme heat days and know how to act. Outdoor exercise is difficult for me during the hot Arizona summer. My face seems to trap heat, making me hotter, redder, sweatier, and very uncomfortable. I know to limit my outdoor exertions to early morning, or I take it inside.

Every one of us is susceptible to heat illness, so learn the signs: headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness, heavy sweating.

Take Action: Be heat smart during our hot summer months. Sign up for weather alerts. Learn first aid and know when to call 911 when dealing with heat illness.  Dress for the heat and wear sunscreen. Take regular breaks when you are outside, and stay cool.

Soon enough, the temperatures will drop back down and we will be able to enjoy the great outdoors all day long. Until then, I ride my bike at 6 in the morning and walk my dog late at night. My family plays in the pool under umbrellas, we go to the movies, the trampoline park, or roller skating.

I’m ready for the Arizona summer. Are you? Visit NWS’s website and the Arizona Heat Awareness page for more information on the campaign.  

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