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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The world of "what if"

Working in emergency management is like planning for and managing a world of what ifs.  What if the wildfire triggers large-scale evacuations?  What if we lose our primary information sharing tool?  What if flooding isolates a community in need of food and emergency medical access?
Earlier this month, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) and FEMA hosted a workshop to identify many of the what ifs the Whole Community will face during the long-term recovery to an incident at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
DEMA participates in several  Palo Verde exercises a year that allow agencies to practice response procedures, alerting protocols,  protective action decision-making and distribution of public information.  These activities are outlined in the joint emergency response plan, Offsite Emergency Response Plan for Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.   

The workshop was different because it focused on recovery needs at 8 weeks, 1 to 4 years and 10 to 40 years post-incident.  Recovery activities for all incidents are outlined in the Arizona Disaster Recovery Framework.  The focus of recovery is how to best restore, reconstruct and redevelop the social, natural, and economic fabrics of the community.  Specifically, this workshop centered on economic recovery, housing shortfalls, and health and social service gaps. 

How did we solve all that in two days?  As you might guess, we came up with more questions than answers:

  • ·        What if people won’t return to evacuated communities due to fear of radiological impacts?
  • ·        How do you educate/engage the public on actual vs. perceive radiation risks?
  • ·        What needs to be done to sustain the agricultural businesses in Arizona?
  • ·        How do you certify the agricultural products are safe to consume?
  • ·        How are contaminated products disposed?
  • ·        How do you decontaminate critical roadways to ensure efficient transport of commodities?

Even though many questions were left unanswered the workshop was made worthwhile by the diverse discussion and relationships developed.  More than 80 people representing 23 agencies attended the workshop.   Each agency articulated different concerns and approaches to solving the problem.

Representatives from the Arizona Department of Agriculture were concerned about farmers that would need to move their businesses out of the contaminated area.  Would land be available for them to replant?  How long would an embargo on agricultural products last?

Power company representatives were concerned about impacts to the power infrastructure.  Would it be possible to make repairs to damaged infrastructure in contaminated areas and keep the emergency workers safe?  Are incentive programs available to encourage solar energy in the rebuilding of communities?

Even the representatives from the various sections of DEMA had different concerns.  The Recovery Section was looking at the whole picture and was concerned about having the right agencies participate in returning the community to the new normal. The Public Information Office was concerned about the communication of  coordinated and consistent messaging to the public.

Although the workshop focused on  recovery to an incident at Palo Verde, the questions that were raised, the ideas that surfaced and the relationships that were developed will make the emergency management community stronger regardless of the what if.

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