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Monday, November 9, 2015

When the ground shakes in Arizona

Earthquake locations on Nov. 1, 2015.
Photo by: AZGS
Three earthquakes rattled the Arizona landscape not too long ago. The strongest registered a magnitude of 4.1. It was enough to get everyone talking about the chances of a larger magnitude earthquake striking Arizona. 

Coincidently, the Arizona Department of Emergency andMilitary Affairs (DEMA) hosted a statewide exercise three days later focused on responding to an earthquake. We exercise regularly in emergency management as a way to ensure we are prepared for potential emergencies. Exercising different scenarios provides participating agencies an opportunity to test and evaluate plans, procedures and capabilities in response to an event.

The earthquake scenario was chosen after DEMA’s exercise branch reviewed prior exercises and discussed the potential for different disasters. Realizing an earthquake exercise hadn’t been done in recent years, the team worked with the Arizona Geological Survey to fill in necessary details such as the potential strength and location of an earthquake.

Arizona has active faults across the state. The Lake Mary and Hurricane faults lie in northern Arizona. The Algodones and Santa Rita faults are in the southern part of the state. The Big Chino Fault runs through central Arizona, and the Safford Fault is in the eastern portion of our state. These faults are capable of producing earthquakes that range from magnitude 6.0 to 7.5. Earthquakes that strong can cause severe damage.

DEMA invited multiple state and county agencies to participate in the exercise as well as non-governmental and volunteer partners. More than 75 agencies participated in the one-day exercise.

The exercise began and 6 a.m. when a notional earthquake struck near Paulden, Ariz. in Yavapai County. Yavapai County began their response at that time.

Inside the SEOC Nov. 4. 1015
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, I received a call at 7:45 a.m. to attend a meeting.  DEMA decision makers were huddled in a room, gathering what information they needed from Yavapai County in order to make a determination as to whether needed to activate the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC).

The SEOC, located at Papago Park Military Reservation, coordinates the State response to emergencies and disasters. When an incident occurs, representatives from multiple agencies gather at the SEOC to work side-by-side.

The SEOC allows representatives from transportation, law enforcement, health, military, volunteer agencies, and more, to work closely together during the response and recovery process of an incident.

The decision was made to activate the SEOC pretty quickly after hearing about the strength of the quake and the initial damage reports.

We broke from the meeting and I headed back to my desk. Five minutes later, I got an automated call from state communicator system, which directed me to report to the SEOC. I gathered my laptop, notebook and coffee, and walked to the SEOC.

I was the Lead Public Information Officer (PIO) during the exercise. My responsibilities were to coordinate and implement communication strategies, write media advisories and news releases as needed, respond to media inquires, issue timely and accurate information, and attend meetings to ensure current knowledge of situation.

Inside the SEOC Nov. 4, 2015
As I sat in the SEOC, working on a fictitious news release about Governor Ducey declaring a state of emergency, I listened to the conversations around me: representatives from the Arizona Department of Transportation and Maricopa County discussed roads and bridges; Civil Air Patrol and National Guard planned flights to the scene to get aerial images; and Red Cross and DEMA Recovery determined sheltering needs. It was clear that the SEOC was running as it should with response and recovery efforts under way to assist the affected community and its people. 

The exercise ended around 3 p.m., after the SEOC had coordinated many plans of action, mapped the damage, posted electronic signs and closed roads, received photos of the area, allocated resources and personnel, and shared a lot of information.

The real earthquakes and the exercise are good reminders that we need to prepare for disasters, no matter how infrequent. Make sure your family communication plan is updated with important phone numbers, an out-of-town contact, and evacuation plans. Double-check that your emergency supplies kit is well stocked with enough food, water and supplies to last at least three days. For more preparedness tips, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When California has the Big Earthquake that will destroy that area, we will not only feel the earthquake but our state will suffer damage from it. It is good to be prepared.