Arizona prepares for El Niño

Arizona prepares for El Niño

Map of the United States winter outlook precipitation chances. Image by: NOAA/NWS

El Niño is a weather pattern characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific. The consequences of the warmer water pose a serious threat to communities across the country, including Arizona. For Arizonans, that means a wetter (rain or snow) winter and spring, and increased flood risk.

According to the National Weather Service, temperature and precipitation impacts associated with this El Niño are expected to increase through the winter. Their Winter Outlook shows probabilities for above normal precipitation over much of California, Arizona, and southern Nevada.

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) personnel traveled around the state, working with stakeholders and partners to ensure the state is prepared for El Niño.

Arizona is taking the opportunity to educate residents and emergency response and recovery partners about El Niño preparedness.

DEMA hosted a workshop with 110 response and recovery partners to share the latest El Niño predictions, review what has happened during previous El Niño years and examine agency roles and responsibilities.

DEMA conducted statewide training for 512 stakeholders regarding volunteer and donation management, how to conduct damage assessments, and community mass care and emergency assistance.  

DEMA coordinated regional meetings throughout Arizona to discuss El Niño predictions and preparedness, and the role of voluntary and community organizations.

Whitney Roberts, DEMA’s Voluntary Agency and Private Sector Liaison, travelled from the southern part of the state to the northern counties. She attended meetings with everyone from the Arizona State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and the American Red Cross down to different regional and county VOADs and COADs (Community Organizations Active in Disaster). Roberts also spoke with private sector businesses.

“It’s extremely important to talk to the voluntary agencies and prepare them so that they can talk to and prepare their volunteers for what may happen, and what may be needed during the response and recovery phase of a disaster,” said Roberts. “I explained what El Niño’s potential could be so they can think about how to tackle it and be prepared.”

DEMA’s Public Information Office developed a public awareness campaign on El Niño winter preparedness that includes flyers, infographics, social media and a featured page on the AzEIN website. The Office worked with counties and tribes to localize El Niño winter preparedness flyers with their statistics and websites.

On a larger scale, Anthony Cox, DEMA’s Operations and Coordination Assistant Director, attended the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) El Niño Response Tabletop Exercise at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in Mather, Calif.

The exercise allowed state, local and federal partners to emphasize the recognition of a threat and to work through response and recovery capacities in a potentially realistic scenario.

“As a state within FEMA Region 9, Arizona sent two representatives from DEMA to ensure coordination with federal and state partners should the Winter El Niño 2015/2016 bring disaster to the state,” Cox said. “I participated in a Rehearsal of Concept drill to test and validate the newly developed Executive Decision Support Guide for El Niño events in Region 9.”

The event also included regional press outreach in order to highlight what emergency management agencies and their partners are doing to prepare. More than 100 media representatives, including some from Arizona, attended in person or virtually.

“It takes a whole community to prepare for emergency situations and to respond and recover from disasters,” said Cox. “Arizona and DEMA cannot address all necessary functions of emergency management without our partnerships.”

El Niño poses a threat to communities across Arizona. Prepare your home and yourself.

Know your risks. Find out if you’re in a flood zone. Visit and talk to your insurance agent. Flooding is not covered under homeowner policies.

Sign up to receive emergency notifications. When traveling, be aware of weather and road conditions as you travel around the state.

Develop a family communication plan containing important phone numbers and contacts, as well as an out-of-town contact for the entire family to call. Don’t forget to include school and pet information. Talk to your family about evacuation routes and where to meet. Practice evacuating with your family.

Create an emergency supplies kit containing 72-hours worth of food, water, and other essentials. It should include first aid, medicine, flashlight, radio, batteries, etc. Personalize the kit for your family–pet supplies, baby formula, medical equipment, etc.

Have a kit for your car as well. Include blankets, flashlight, ice scraper, extra clothes, gloves, water, and snacks.

“There aren’t many types of disasters capable of impacting all Arizonans, but a strong El Niño could cause flooding, evacuations and power outages anywhere (and everywhere) in the state,” said DEMA’s Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve. “It takes a team effort to plan for, respond to and recover from the kinds of widespread consequences being talked about, which is why we’re invested in the education and training of and outreach to the whole community.”