Neighbors assisting each other across state lines

Neighbors assisting each other across state lines

  • Florida Emergency Operations Center
States helping states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) is a part of the National Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). EMAC provides an effective, scalable, and efficient approach to responding to incidents nationwide. Established in 1996, EMAC is a fast way to provide state-to-state assistance (resources and personnel) during declared emergencies. The system is driven by the state that is requesting the resources.

Lawrence Wise, DEMA’s Logistics/Mutual Aid Coordinator, coordinates resources to support disaster response and runs Arizona’s Mutual Aid program, receiving all mutual aid requests.

“In most cases, the request is broadcast to all 54 states and territories. However, it can be also broadcast to a small group of states that are geographically close and are known to have the requested resource(s),” explains Wise. “Once we receive the request, I’ll reach out to one of our 15 Emergency Support Functions (ESF). These ESF's consist of mostly state agencies; however, a few of them are also Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD).”

These partners l then determine if they can fill the specific request. Arizona deploys people as often as they are able to do so. Wendy Smith-Reeve, DEMA’s Deputy Director and Emergency Management Director says that states have a duty to assist each other.

“It is important for partners across the nation to step up and support our neighbors in need as it's not about what you can do alone, but what we can achieve together,” Smith-Reeve says. “When a situation elevates beyond our whole community capability built within our state, this state-to-state mutual aid process is utilized as a force multiplying mechanism to ensure our ability to meet the needs of the communities we serve.” 

Arizona has fulfilled multiple requests in 2017. Staff deployed to Georgia, Nevada, and Texas, providing Transitional Shelter Assistance and Volunteer and Donation Management after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Daniel Porth, DEMA’s Human Services Branch Manager, recently returned from two extended deployments. He traveled to Texas to assist with Hurricane Harvey recovery as their subject matter expert on Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA), helping those unable to return to their uninhabitable (or inaccessible) homes.

“TSA transitions disaster survivors from shelters to other accommodations, such as a hotel or motel for a limited period of time,” says Porth. “The federal government covers the cost of rooms and taxes.”

Porth evaluated opening shelters in impacted counties, helped train transition teams, attended meetings, worked on finding shelter locations for counties still in need, and continued to support the needs of survivors in the shelters.

Whitney Hensiak, Joan Brown, and David Rosales, other members of the DEMA Human Services team, traveled to Florida to aid in the Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.

The three were split to assist across the state to areas that needed volunteer and donations management. Hensiak started in the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee tracking the progress of Salvation Army pop-up thrift stores in support of Goodwill’s operation to take clothing donations, and for survivors to use gift cards issued by American Red Cross. She also tracked FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) and Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers (MDRC) and where they were established. Hensiak was then sent to Clay County.

“John Ward, the County Emergency Manager tasked me to be his ESF 15 [Public Affairs] point of contact,” Hensiak explained.” One of the projects was pulling together and preparing volunteer statistics (numbers of volunteers, volunteer hours, projects completed, etc.) for Clay County. This project enabled me to get to know more people and do outreach to various organizations resulting in stronger partnerships along the way.” 

Joan Brown, DEMA’s Human Services Reservist says that coming into a disaster when it hasn’t affected her directly allows her to look at it from a different point of view than those impacted.

“It is still very emotional for us, but we can put the victims first in our minds and provide them with comfort, recovery hope and a recovery plan,” Brown explains. “We take their burden for a while. If we can help them get through one minute, one hour, one day with hope and assistance then we are doing our job.” 

Staying in Arizona, Wise is involved from the beginning of a deployment through the termination.

“During EMAC deployments, I monitor the resources that are deployed and typically conduct weekly conference calls with supporting personnel to ensure their needs are met,” says Wise. “Once the deployment is over, we typically conduct an after-action review and share the experience with our entire agency.”

Sheldon Ross is a State Liaison Officer for DEMA’s Response Branch. His past employment as a director of a Community Emergency Response Team, and a Search and Rescue team leader, makes Ross a well-trained disaster response and emergency service professional. DEMA recently sent Ross to assist in Texas and Nogales.

In Texas, Ross deployed as a FEMA Housing Inspector, assessing and documenting damaged homes in Highlands, Texas, which experienced extensive flooding from the storm surge into the San Jacinto River. He worked solo for 12 hours a day, reviewing, analyzing, and verifying documents provided by applicants and providing disaster assistance program information to those in need.

Before Harvey, Ross was sent to Santa Cruz County to assist with the erosion of the Nogales Wash from excessive monsoon flooding. He was the State Liaison On-Site Logistics Officer, working with the state and county to ensure timely logistics support for the emergency repairs needed to shore up the wash and protect the community.

Arizona has responded to other incidents in 2017 as well.

“The Arizona National Guard deployed UH-60 Blackhawk support and LUH 72 Lakota helicopter support to Texas,” Wise says. “We recently deployed wildland fire suppression resources to California to battle the fires in that state. Within Arizona, we have deployed multiple resources to many of our 15 counties in support of wildland fires, flooding and search and rescue activities. Resources included EOC staffing, communications support, and incident management team support.”  

When a presidential disaster is declared, the affected state needs as much assistance as it can receive in a timely matter. EMAC has minimized steps for a state to request assistance. With the Compact, states can deploy resources faster to where they need to go without the extensive paperwork and approvals. “No local, state or federal government can afford to maintain the resources that allow them to be able to respond to every emergency situation,” says Ross. “So there must be a cadre of highly trained reservists ready to assist when then disasters occur in order to protect lives and property. Every area will have times of need we need to be ready to assist when needed to help make a difference.”

Wise believes the quality and strength of EMAC lies in its governance structure.

“Its relationship with federal agencies, national organizations, states, counties, territories, and regions; the willingness of state and response and recovery personnel to deploy; and the ability to move any resource one state wishes to utilize to assist another state,” Wise explains. “During 2017, EMAC has been utilized to help communities recover from 3 major hurricanes, massive flooding and property damage, wildland fires, and many other incidents too numerous to list.”

Smith-Reeve says EMAC not only provides for those in need, but it gives great opportunity to those who help out to hone their skills.

“The individuals who respond return to our state with enhanced knowledge and capabilities which elevates our level of support to our great state,” Smith-Reeve said. 

Hensiak agrees with that notion.

“We all have an ultimate over-arching goal of resiliency,” Hensiak said. “The more we can teach each other and learn from each other, the better continuity we will have nationwide.”