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Monday, January 5, 2015

My First Year in Emergency Management

Communication plans and emergency supplies kits and preparedness awareness, oh my. My first year in emergency management has literally blown by amid drills, exercises, articles, and trainings. I thought it would be nice to take a look back at my time at the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) in 2014.

State Emergency Operations Center
Photo by: DEMA PIO
In my first days as a Public Information Officer (PIO) for the department, I met some amazing people who have dedicated decades to emergency management. One of them, Chuck McHugh, just retired after spending 20 years in the Operations Section. And this was his second career.

In my first week, I toured the State Emergency Operations Center, attended a meeting with all the county emergency managers, and jumped right into the job as it was Flood Awareness Week and press releases needed to be sent out, social media had to be posted, and a blog was waiting to be written.

I got my first taste of wildfires with DEMA’s annual wildland fire briefing, which included Governor Brewer and representatives from the Arizona State Forestry Division, and other fire agency personnel talking to the media about the upcoming wildfire season.

Brown Fire, April 2014
 Photo by: USFS
The Brown Fire on the Coronado National Forest was the first wildfire of the season. I learned about the amazing teamwork and open communication between different agencies as PIOs from state, county, fire, American Red Cross, and more all participated in daily conference calls to provide updates, discuss any concerns, determine what information needed to be shared, and who was going to do what task.

Fire season was also the time I really got a taste of how the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN), our public information website, works. When a partner agency sends a release, one of DEMA’s PIOs posts it within an hour of receipt, no matter the day or time. Some days, when multiple fires were burning, we would post up to 20 bulletins, some late into the night. (Bonus: I remember watching the news one night and the reporter had AzEIN open on the computer screen behind her – yippee!)

Damage from Aug. 2014 flood in New River, AZ
Photo by: DEMA PIO
Monsoon 2014 opened my eyes to the disaster declaration and preliminary damage assessment (PDA) processes, the workings of the Governor’s Emergency Fund, and how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) handles events after a presidential declaration. Going out on a PDA with the recovery team and the U.S. Small Business Administration taught me how the system works. I not only saw the devastation caused by the August and September flooding, but I witnessed the amazing resiliency and camaraderie of the people that were affected by the storms. Most of them seemed to be concerned about their neighbors, and that field teams talk to everyone.

In the fall, I learned more than I ever thought possible about Ebola. I was proud to see how state and county agencies, along with private sector partners joined together to start planning what to do if an infectious disease like Ebola arrived in Arizona. Once more, teamwork, communication, and determination to cover all the bases was evident as everyone focused on working together.

Palo Verde at Night
Photo by: APS, Paul Escan
I've been a part of a few exercises and drills already, which I always enjoy. I’ve learned about the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS) as I have drilled with their teams in the Joint Information Center a handful of times this year.

And who can forget about preparedness? One of our main goals in the DEMA Public Information Office is to share preparedness information. We provide preparedness tips all year long in the form of social media, articles, blogs, events, releases, etc. Working on becoming prepared for an emergency or disaster really can help when something does happen.

Here it is again, once more. Write and rehearse a family communications plan so your family knows who to call, and where to meet during an event. Create a 72-hour emergency supplies kit – you should be able to survive three days on your own. Inquire about the hazards in your community or when you travel. And inspire others to be prepared by setting a good preparedness example.   

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2015 has to offer me. How about you?

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