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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Not a typical first day as an intern

Dustin at the AZ DEMA Headquarters
My name is Dustin. I am a student at Arizona State University, working on completing a degree in Public Policy and Public Service with an emphasis in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. I took a five year break from college to enter the workforce so when I was accepted to the Arizona Departmentof Emergency Management and Military Affairs (DEMA) internship program I thought I knew what I was in for. I “understood” that interns were for getting coffee, filing papers and meant to be seen but not heard. That is not the case at DEMA.

When I showed up for my first day, I expected a typical introduction to the rules and regulations, perhaps even some death by PowerPoint. Instead, we went through brief introductions and were rushed into the Arizona State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC). President Trump was visiting Arizona and DEMA, along with other federal, state, and local agencies, prepared for his arrival. 

As I walked into the SEOC, it looked like a movie scene of a NASA control center, with large screens on the walls and dozens of individuals working from computer stations. In the room, personnel represented various agencies, ranging from law enforcement to local emergency management, including DEMA staff members. 

I had the opportunity to listen to a briefing that outlined the President's schedule for the day and the state’s plan to ensure that everyone stayed safe during the planned protest. It was exciting to be part of a real world event and watch live reports come in from different agencies. DEMA entered a 24-hour watch, standing by in case anything happened.

As our work day came to an end, I and the other interns found ourselves wanting to stay to watch as events unfolded while the President gave his speech and protesting took place. 

Not bad for a first day.

An inside look at the Arizona State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC)

Blog by Dustin Kirk

Monday, November 6, 2017

The last time I got the flu

I got something done that I have not always been on top of in years past: I got my flu shot EARLY this flu season! Have you gotten yours?
In the past, I put off getting a flu shot and paid dearly for procrastinating.
I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences with the flu. The most recent was when I was moving across the country from Kansas City, Missouri to Phoenix in the beginning of winter. I didn’t get a flu shot that year. I put it off and it came back to bite me.
I remember the cold Midwest wind, snow falling, frozen ice on the ground and my breath being visible. And I got the flu…at the worst time.
My wife and I were in the middle of packing up our stuff in our apartment. I experienced chills, aches, pains, a high fever, sore throat, and a cough that was miserable. The worst part was my poor wife was left to pack up all of our stuff in boxes, plastic wrap and old newspaper. She did most of the moving herself.
My biggest contribution to that moving experience remains vivid in my mind. Some of the more difficult things to pack were our outdoor chairs, table and fire pit, which were on the heavier side. I had to go onto our balcony to retrieve them.
My wife and I had the Kansas City Chiefs game on the television inside. I remember the sports commentators having their faces covered up to their noses with scarves because it was zero degrees in the city.
Wrapped up in winter gear, flu and all, I grabbed each piece of outdoor furniture with my aching hands (probably in discomfort from the flu as well as the cold temperature), shook and dusted the snow off of each piece, and hauled them inside. It took all the energy I had at the time just to move that furniture inside. And it still was just a drop in the bucket compared to all the hard work my wife put in to get us moved.
We had to wait a couple of days for the weather to improve before we hit the road. An ice storm had come through the night before and the roads were very slick. We lived in the middle of the city, and the last thing I wanted to attempt was driving a moving truck through Kansas City traffic.
On the last days of fighting off my illness, the ice had begun to melt in the city. There was a lull before the next storm was supposed to roll in. We decided to make our move.
At 4 a.m., I got behind the wheel of the movers truck we rented and drove out of KCMO to hit the open roads of Kansas. A couple of days later, we made it to Arizona. I couldn’t help but think of how much easier things could have been if I’d just gotten my flu shot.
I used to think that it was inconvenient to take time to get one. But today, more than ever before, there are a number of places where flu shots are available.
Many walk-in care clinics can be found in pharmacies or retail stores. Immunizations are widely available. You can find immunization clinics state-wide and use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to find a clinic in your area. Your local pharmacy can administer vaccines. Most county health departments carry the flu vaccine.  I got my flu shot at an Emergency Preparedness Fair at the local mall in September.
Looking back, I would have much rather had a normal, uneventful move than end up having a flu story to tell about the experience.  Getting a flu shot is worth not getting the headache. And the chills. And the fever. And everything that comes with having the flu.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

People-focus makes the difference in aviation preparedness

U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona
On October 26, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport conducted its 2017 Emergency Preparedness Exercise, a full-scale triennial exercise mandated by Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 139.  Local, state, federal, private sector and voluntary organizations spent several months collaborating and planning this six-hour exercise. 

Arizona Department of Emergency & Military Affairs (DEMA) personnel participated by playing roles such as passengers or family and friends of passengers. The exercise scenario was a large commercial aircraft, carrying 100 total people, blew a tire upon landing and forced the plane off the runway. The plane split in two and caught fire.

Playing the family member of one of the passengers and being exposed to the experiences of other role players gave me a unique perspective on the emotional impact on victims and their family, as well as the coordinated efforts of response agencies to crises.

At the close of the exercise, all participants were brought to a single location to debrief. While our specific feedback and experiences were different, a single theme emerged during the debrief: emergency management is as much about maintaining a people-focus as it is about understanding and completing the right tasks at the right time. 

As I put myself in the role of a mother whose child was on the aircraft, I realized how much trust, confidence and faith Arizona residents place in emergency response agencies every day.  Whether we realize it or not, each time we get in our cars, send our children to school, board an airplane, or enter a sports arena, we have confidence in the necessary safety and security measures in place to prevent and/or respond to an emergency.

While feedback was given on the overall organization of the event and coordination between various organizations involved, the most passionate comments described how people felt. This feedback came from the passengers and their family members and friends.

For example, a passenger who was hearing-impaired made it safely off the airplane but was confused about what to do.  Directions were given to passengers, but she could not hear them. She stopped a rescue worker and advised him that she could not hear and needed help. He looked her up and down and saw that she was not injured and replied, “You are not the priority right now. Keep walking.”

Clearly, this rescue worker knew what his task was, to identify and assist injured passengers. He was task-focused and following procedures.  You could even say he was “people-focused” since he prioritized helping injured passengers.

However, this passenger that did not fit the description of someone on his “task list” could have easily been injured because she did not know what to do or where to go. She had just emerged from an airplane that ran off the runway, split in two and burst into flames. She was confused and scared.

At the same time, family and friends of passengers were gathered in a room at the Airport Marriott, anxiously awaiting information about loved ones. As we waited for the passenger list to arrive, an airline representative set expectations for how often we would receive information; what resources would be available to us; and where basics like water, restrooms and food were located. 

U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Tinashe Machona
Agencies demonstrated a balance of task- and people-focus emergency response efforts. In particular, the American Red Cross stood out to me for their ability to balance a coordinated response and listen to and focus on the needs of victims. 

“Let’s have a seat and talk,” suggested an American Red Cross volunteer to a waiting family member.

“I can’t sit. I don’t want to sit,” replied the distraught woman.

“May I walk with you, and you can talk to me if you’d like?” said the American Red Cross volunteer in an empathetic, warm voice.

“Yes…yes.  Let’s do that,” answered the family member a bit more calmly.

American Red Cross volunteers did not deem their task complete until the person in front of them was calm and felt heard and cared for.

That is what the marriage of task- and people-focused looks like, and that is what instills trust and confidence between agencies and the public during times of crisis.

Blog by Toni Eberhardt 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

My first outreach events as a Public Information Officer

During my first week as Public Information Officer for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, I was excited for the opportunity to participate in two outreach events and spread the word about emergency preparedness.  How many people would come up to our booth? Would anyone show interest in emergency preparedness? What I found were dozens of people with genuine curiosity and great questions in a time of heightened concern for emergency situations.
I joined my co-workers for two outreach events at American Express campuses in Phoenix. Many who approached our table shared their concerns about recent natural disasters, from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, to the large earthquakes in Mexico and the ongoing wildfires in California.  For many individuals, these events were reminders of the need to prepare for emergencies. The truth is emergencies can happen anywhere and at anytime. We had great conversations with several people throughout both days, as we gave out informational preparedness packets to those who visited our booth. I found myself feeling gratified and appreciative that people took our advice to heart, with some even taking extra packets to give to family and co-workers. Our visitors welcomed the opportunity to learn  about all-hazard emergency preparedness.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how rewarding this experience felt to me. I enjoyed meeting new people and giving them helpful information they can use to  keep themselves and their family safe during emergencies. The family communication plan template and the emergency supplies kit checklist that we shared have the potential to help families plan ahead.
The experience also provided me with excellent practice for outreach events I will participate in the future. As I spoke to more people, I learned how I can be an informative Public Information Officer. I learned about the different questions people can ask related to disasters in Arizona, how others look at emergency preparedness from their  unique viewpoints, and ways that I can share this information with the public in an engaging way.

I loved being able to participate in these outreach events and hope people walked away ready to plan, prepare and inspire others to be ready in an emergency. I’m already looking forward to the next outreach opportunity!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Relationships make the (emergency management) world go round

Relationships are one of the most important elements in every aspect of my life— my family, my friends, my boxing instructor, and my work at the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA).  

Relationships developed with people in emergency management, from the local level (city and county) up to other state and federal agencies, are important to build before an emergency occurs. Knowing who works at the county level emergency management offices makes it easier to call and ask for help when it is needed.  

In order to truly serve one’s community, relationships must extend beyond  emergency management  to include public health, transportation, schools, fire, voluntary groups, as well as businesses. Most emergency events involve response efforts from a variety of agencies . Engaging agencies from a variety of areas strengthens the emergency response and encompasses a Whole Community approach to keeping the public safe.

DEMA’s Public Information Office works to develop and strengthen relationships across the state, knowing that it is imperative to have a relationship in place before an incident (emergency) occurs. One way we do this is by maintaining a contact list of all the Pubic Information Officers from agencies and organizations throughout Arizona.

One of the best relationships I have developed is with the wonderful people (Beca, Carmen and Vicki) at the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ACDHH). A few years ago, we were brainstorming outreach ideas for the Whole Community and decided to create videos highlighting emergency preparedness.

While disasters don’t occur often in Arizona, they do happen. Wildfires rage through parts of the state every summer. Floods can inundate streets and homes north, south, east, and west. Extreme heat affects us each summer, and even earthquakes can shake our ground. With the threat of these diverse hazards present each year, everyone needs to be prepared.

I reached out to Beca and Carmen at ACDHH and we worked to develop scripts and then record preparedness videos about wildfire, flood, earthquake, and nuclear incident, with videos on extreme heat and dust storms in the works. Beca interpreted the video using American Sign Language (ASL). Along with audio (provided by Vicki), we added text to the screen to ensure every person that has access to the videos will receive the information they may need to prepare themselves and their families.

DEMA wants all Arizonans to be prepared for any potential disaster. Including the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community is integral to this goal. Without our relationship with ACDHH, we would have not been able to produce videos.