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Friday, October 14, 2016

Practice evacuation drills at home and at work to encourage preparedness

“This is an exercise:  A helicopter has crashed at Papago Park Military Reservation near the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC). The area has been contaminated and the SEOC must be evacuated. Staff working in the SEOC should relocate to the Alternate EOC in Pima County. Please collect your go bags and prepare to depart.”

I hung up my phone after listening to the recorded message. The message marked the beginning of a relocation exercise at the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Division of Emergency Management.

I went to my office, gathered my belongings, including my go bag and headed out to the parking lot with 40 other DEMA employees. We checked in, received travel instructions, got into our assigned cars and headed down the I-10 to Tucson.

Small go kit on left;
emergency supplies kit center and right
A go kit is a miniature version of an emergency supplies kit. For us in emergency management, we
all keep a bag with three days worth of personal supplies – clothes, toiletries, medicine, shoes, etc. in our cars or office. The go bag is important when we get the call to assist and can’t go home. If we need to leave immediately, we have with some personal supplies on hand.

I was the Communications person in the car, meaning I had to radio our status to the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) while en route to our destination. Having a radio for back-up communication is key to ensuring connectivity during an emergency. The radio check-ins also allowed DEMA personnel to practice using the radios in a non-emergency situation.

Think about your family communication plan. Has your family talked about different forms of communication you can use to stay in touch during an emergency? What would you do if phone lines went down, were busy, or your cell phone died? Would text messages or email work? Or could you use two way radios as we did in our exercise?

The Pima County Emergency Operations Center
Upon arrival at the Alternate EOC in Pima County, we sat down at work stations and practiced logging in to our web-based communications program, WebEOC. The Alternate EOC allows DEMA staff to continue working if the SEOC is unusable. In emergency management, we plan for a variety of disasters and emergencies. Having an inaccessible EOC is a very real possibility. Practicing relocating will make an actual relocation easier because staff has practiced the steps.  

Have you written an evacuation plan if you have to leave your house? Have you identified two meeting places for your family, one near your home and one outside the neighborhood?

Before heading back to the SEOC, we held a hot wash, a discussion of what went well and what didn’t go so well during the exercise. A hot wash is an important part of any exercise to gather information that can be assembled into an After Action Report. The exercise and planning team will review all comments and make changes to the relocation plan, improving it for the next use.

For more preparedness tips, visit AzEIN.

This blog was written by Aprille S., Public Information Officer for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.

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