Arizona Focuses on Whole Community Preparedness

Arizona Focuses on Whole Community Preparedness

Volunteers set up a Red Cross shelter in Cottonwood, AZ, 2010 (Photo by: American Red Cross, Grand Canyon Chapter)

When it comes to preparing for emergencies and disasters, the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (ADEM) strives to involve the whole community. To be truly prepared, everyone’s needs must be recognized, discussed, and planned for before an event occurs.



Dan Porth, ADEM’s Human Services Branch Manager, is a member of the statewide Access and Functional Needs Task Force (AFNTF), which was developed in 2011 to advocate for the Access and Functional Needs (AFN) population. Task force members come from state, county and local agencies.


Porth said the goal of the task force is to ensure that all emergency sheltering plans seamlessly included AFN requirements. “The requirements are not an add-on to existing plans,” Porth said. “They are to be a result of whole community planning.”


In the summer of 2012, two ADEM reservists traveled throughout Arizona with American Red Cross and county representatives assessing rural shelters outside metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson in to determine which were ADA compliant and met AFN needs. A new law requires that all shelters must be able to assist those with AFN.  


Seven thousand miles and many cups of coffee later, they were finished. Some shelters were removed from the National Shelter System list as they did not stand up to the new requirements. Some of those shelters that were removed were built over 30 years ago.



County emergency management representatives from across the state recently met to discuss sheltering and evacuation protocols for community members with AFN. One theme that kept coming up was the importance of working together within the community.



Mohave County has been working to ensure whole community preparedness. “It’s important to develop relationships where the coordinating agencies work together and communicate regularly,” said Mohave County Emergency Management Coordinator Bryon Steward. “We looked at the needs of our entire community and put together a plan that encompassed everyone. Reaching out to the AFN community and discussing their preparedness needs was a big part of that.”


Beth Boyd, Arizona Regional Disaster Officer for the American Red Cross, said that they are always ready to assist Arizona communities with support. “But don’t forget to look within your community for needed resources before a disaster strikes,” she said. “You’d be surprised to see who has what right next door. It may be faster than waiting for us to find supplies and bring them to you.”


A strong support system is key to ensuring everyone is taken care of. “We need to build a diverse portfolio to take care of all our community needs,” said Pete Weaver, Maricopa County Emergency Management Director. “We can’t depend on any one group. We need to enhance/ build our local partnerships.”


When an emergency occurs and a shelter needs to be set-up, ADEM is capable of supporting shelters with the supplies needed for all community members. “We have three AFN shelter support packages,” said Porth. “They include a computer with a 42-inch monitor, charging equipment for devices, solar chargers, power strips, hand-held showers, toilet risers, AFN cots, and other pieces of AFN medical equipment.”


The packages are deployed whenever the Red Cross opens a shelter. A Red Cross volunteer can either pick up the package before they head to the disaster area, or an ADEM employee will deliver it.


When more supplies are needed, the Arizona Department of Health Services  (ADHS) can bring to bear enough durable medical equipment, adaptive equipment, and supplies to help approximately 1,000 people in a shelter. Teresa Ehnert, Chief of the ADHS Bureau of Public Health Emergency Preparedness says the creation of the cache helps to answer the need to find a way to sustain and develop preparedness programs for at-risk populations.


“This project not only helps people with functional and access needs during disasters, it helps us all,” said Ehnert. “By keeping people with simple support needs – such as oxygen or a specialized bed – out of the hospitals, our healthcare workers can concentrate on treating people that need immediate attention. It’s also important to keep families together during a disaster. We can do that by making sure we can meet many functional support needs in general shelters.”


The cache contains everyday medical supplies such as bandages, cotton swabs, compression socks, oxygen, colostomy bags, walkers, canes, wheelchairs, toilet risers/supplies, AFN chairs/beds, triage supplies, and more. The items are accessible 24 hours a day, so as soon as a need is verified ADHS works with the local jurisdiction to get them the required items.



For years, Arizona has included the AFN population in interagency planning, training and exercises; their participation was imperative to realistically exercise the whole community plan. ADEM also has a planning tool available on its website with the estimated AFN demographics for the state and each county. “Arizona happens to be out in front working to ensure the processes for individuals with AFN are included in total emergency planning,” Porth said.