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Thursday, May 12, 2016

A bad day in Pima County - it’s all about perception

Today’s blog comes from Sandra Espinoza, the South Region Field Coordinator for the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. Her area of responsibility includes the three international border counties of Yuma, Santa Cruz and Cochise as well as Graham and Greenlee. Ms. Espinoza works to enhance collaboration with primary stakeholders to include local, county, federal and tribal partners. During emergencies and disasters 

Ms. Espinoza operates as the State Liaison Officer facilitating coordinated response and recovery operations.
Ms. Espinoza’s Emergency Management experience spans over a decade in various capacities and jurisdictional levels. She most recently served Interim Emergency Management Administrator for the Tohono O’odham Nation where she was responsible for all administrative and management functions. 

Victims during exercise
Photo by: Pima County

What if I told you there was an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) that detonated in downtown Tucson?  You’d most likely feel a tug of the heart, a sinking feeling in your stomach and anxiety, followed by an unquenchable desire to know what happened.  Your mind would go reeling.  For first responders it’s no different.  The difference is their unraveled commitment to excellence.  They train day in and day out to be at the ready, regardless of the call.  It’s demonstrated in their physical fitness, physiological maturity, and continued drive to improve. 

On May 4 in Pima County, the tireless efforts of planning to test the elite came to fruition during a full scale exercise.  A full scale exercise simulates a plausible scenario created in an operational environment and is designed to call upon personnel that would normally respond to such an event/incident.  It allows those participating to validate plans and procedures, clarifying roles and responsibilities, measure performance objectives and coordinate with other teams, organizations and jurisdictions. 

From a hazardous materials incident staged in the Town of Sahuarita to a terrorist incident in the Town of Marana, first responders proved to be at the ready.  Multiple jurisdictions, hospitals, educational institutions, businesses, agencies, non-governmental organizations and members of the community joined to test our readiness.  

For some, it was an opportunity to grasp a greater understanding of what first responders do as they simulated responding to an injured victim.   The players put their teams, plans and protocols to the test.  Evaluators at various locations were tasked to observe and document performance.  Controllers managed the exercise play at each site while ensuring the safety of everyone involved.  Needless to say, it was all pulled together with support staff that performed administrative and logistical support tasks during the exercise. 

I had the opportunity of being stationed at the Pima County Emergency Operations Center (PCEOC). The Pima County Emergency Operation Plan describes the PCEOC as “the primary hub for [Pima] County’s incident management, operational coordination and situational awareness in county-wide disasters or emergencies.”
For this simulated activation, I had a “bird’s eye view” of the entire exercise.  Upon arrival at the PCEOC, I checked in with the EOC Manager and made my way to an available work station. The PCEOC is a state-of-the art facility with more than 60 work stations and several breakout rooms.  Staff called upon to support EOC activities are enabled with the tools and resources required for optimal situational awareness. 

I sat at my station mentally reviewing what was happening where, current and possible impacts, where are the shortfalls, and most importantly how can I contribute to the resolve.  Utilizing WebEOC, I was able to monitor events occurring at the various venue locations.  Personnel assigned to an EOC traditionally utilize checklists which serve as a guide and reminder of action items to be taken in support of the event.  In utilizing my checklist, I am always mindful of “checking the box”.  Do what you do meaningfully and be conscious that your actions or in-actions have an impact. 
Town of Marana airport briefing.
Photo by: Town of Marana

After the exercise those involved at the various venues conducted a “hot wash”.  A hot wash is held to review the events of the day, highlight what went well, and discuss what were the areas of opportunity to improve.  This information is then gathered by the Exercise Director and compiled to publish an After Action Report (AAR).  The AAR highlights observations of the exercise and documents recommendations for areas of improvements.   

The simulated “bad day” in Pima County was filled with opportunity to hone skills and continue to strive for a better tomorrow. 

Today is an opportunity for you to look internally and answer the question “Are you Ready”?  Make a plan; get a Kit, stay informed and be ready Arizona.  Someone is counting on you.

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