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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Aspects of deployment are the same everywhere you go

Eric Ehmann is a Disaster Recovery Specialist with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA). Eric has worked at DEMA for 5 years. In his role as a Disaster Recovery Specialist, Eric deploys to communities affected by disaster to help survivors recover. He has worked with communities impacted by the Wallow Fire, Beaver Dam flooding, and other events.  Eric has worked in Christian ministry and for non-profit organizations over the last 25 years.

I saw the flash flooding in Colorado City on the news. I was sad to see the loss of life. Then the call came in to see if I could go up to the Arizona and Utah border to help assess the damage and the well-being of the community. We also hoped to demonstrate to a rural and secluded community that DEMA is responsive to all communities in all corners of the state.

Our team left from Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix for Colorado City in the early morning. Four of us were going to help with preliminary damage assessments
Ehmann assesses infrastructure damage in Colorado City
Photo by: DEMA staff

Seven hours later, we arrived at the Colorado City Fire Department, tired from the drive, yet ready to work. We met with Byron Steward, the Mohave County Emergency Manager, who took us on a tour of the damage and introduced us to the local fire chief. Steward is great to work with and one of those guys you know will do what it takes to get the job done.

What we found amongst the people of Colorado City was what we always find so soon after a disaster; people were confused, seeking information and hurting. I expected to get a sense of rejection or indifference and that didn’t happen. 

What I came across were people who were glad to meet us and appreciative of our presence. I spoke with locals who had been searching for a missing child who, it was later discovered, died in the flood.

I also spent time with a family who lived along a washed out road. They were eager to speak with me and willingly showed me a video of the flooding. This was unexpected, but a reminder that people want to connect to others no matter how unique the area. People were humbled by our presence and hopeful for the future of the community.

After completing our survey and meetings for the day, we stayed in a small town just across the Utah border. 

The next day we headed back to Colorado City for a final review and to look at a couple of sites that we did not get to the day before. In total, there were six sites with road damage. No individuals reported damage, though we do know that some homes got water inside.

Though the culture was very different from my own, it wasn't hard to see the need for compassion and the desire for help in the recovery process. It never ceases to amaze me how important information and communication are in these situations. I know that the town felt valued and cared for. They didn’t feel like they were left alone to fend for themselves.

Giving people hope and someone to walk with in the process is what I find so satisfying about responding to disasters.

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