Preparedness Symposium brings community together

Preparedness Symposium brings community together

  • Sign showing Preparedness Symposium
  • Image of Preparedness Symposium audience
2018 Preparedness Symposium

Recently, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) hosted more than 350 emergency management professionals to discuss how the whole community can work to avoid a cyberattack, improve communication technology and infrastructure, and prevent a water crisis.


DEMA Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve opened the third annual Preparedness Symposium on September 19, 2018. “We are here today to celebrate and learn from one another on how to contribute to preparedness. We want people to be prepared no matter where they are in our state.”


Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire, DEMA’s director and the adjutant general, reminded the attendees who everyone is working for.


“At the end did the day we are only as capable as our individual citizens are in the community,” McGuire said. “We have to make the individuals more resilient and we need to be ready to respond.”


DEMA’s division of emergency management works with its partners to ensure all people and communities are prepared for potential disasters. Each year, the Preparedness Symposium focuses on topics that are affecting the communities in Arizona. It features discussions on ideas people can take back to their businesses or homes and implement right away.


Three experts from different cities and agencies discussed what agencies and the public can do to protect themselves from cyberattacks.


While the panel shared their experiences with cyber incidents and how their agencies dealt with the after effects, several panelists emphasized an overarching theme, partnerships.


“One of the things that helped was the variety of partners who stepped up to help us, from local and private ones, up to many federal partners,” said Deborah Blyth, Colorado’s Chief Information Security Officer. “Those partnerships were critical in helping us respond to the event.”


Mike Lettman, chief information security officer for the State of Arizona, shared that while the state is working hard to ensure agencies are safe, community members need to protect themselves as well.


“While agencies work to protect their employees and customers, community members need to protect themselves and their families,” Lettman said.


Beca Bailey, community engagement liaison for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, plans to develop a social media campaign about Cybersecurity “so that our communities are aware of this serious issue and take steps for prevention.” She’s also thinking about potentially hosting a community/consumer education workshop next year.


Communication technology and infrastructure is constantly growing and changing. In Arizona, this can be challenging for the agencies with limited and/or old communications technology, especially in rural areas. Relaying messages and being resilient more difficult when agencies and towns have varying communication systems. The communication technology and infrastructure panel focused on the importance of resiliency during an incident that affects multiple communities and agencies.


Kevin Rogers, the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s technical services division telecommunications project manager, shared the work they have done to improve communications with the implementation of FirstNet, a nationwide communications system for first responders.


“Interoperability between agencies and communities is a must during an evolving event,” Rogers said. “We have been implementing emerging technologies and expansion of digital land mobile radio systems throughout Arizona so first responders will have reliable mission critical forms of communications.”


DEMA has multiple communication resources, from hand-held radios and cell phones to communications vehicles that can be stationed around the state to ensure that communities receive emergency messaging. Morgan Hoaglin, DEMA’s communications supervisor says that DEMA is a stakeholder in interoperability.


“One of the best ways to achieve consistent interoperability is to offer one large statewide system that all agencies can access,” he said.


According to Hoaglin, the main interoperable system for the state is the Arizona Interagency Radio System (AIRS). AIRS is a system of mutual-aid channels designed for multi-agency use in Arizona. The radio frequencies are used by first responders, as well as state, local, federal and non-governmental agencies responding to incidents.


The discussion on Arizona’s water outlook covered the past, present and future of Arizona’s water. Since people first settled in Arizona, plans were made to ensure water availability. With the Newlands Reclamation Act in 1902 and the Groundwater Management Act in 1980, experts have accounted for the state’s limited water resources by focusing on conservation, restrictions on use, replenishment and planning.


Alex Amparo, the deputy assistant administrator of the National Preparedness Directorate at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spoke to the attendees about efficient strategies for emergency management. He talked about how achieving resiliency is the responsibility of the whole community, across all layers of government, down to the individual.


“Resilience is based on our weakest link and we need people to help us by helping themselves.” Amparo talked about the importance of families taking the necessary steps to prepare themselves for a disaster. He stressed that if preparedness starts at the local level, we have the potential to become “a prepared and resilient nation.”

Marla Martella, the Arizona coordinator for HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, found Amparo’s words summed up the underlying theme of the day for her.


“We need to really plan and prepare for a disaster ahead of time. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when’ and it may come from an unexpected direction,” she said. “Working in proactive partnerships with state agencies, such as DEMA or the Arizona Board of Education, and local partners like county emergency management or a school give us the opportunity to be a part of the crisis response and recovery team bringing our support to the victims or survivors.”