Arizona assists U.S. territory in its recovery and building toward future

Arizona assists U.S. territory in its recovery and building toward future

  • Building inspectors Alexis Doward (top left), John Flumerfelt (top right) and Leonard Ferrante (seated)
Building inspectors Alexis Doward (top left), John Flumerfelt (top right) and Leonard Ferrante (seated)

In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria crossed the Caribbean and devastated several countries and territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms caused a combined $140 million of damage to water supply, sanitation, food supply, electricity, transportation, communications, security, medical care and shelter. The destruction of basic and critical infrastructure shook the foundation of residents’ way of life to its core.

On the mainland, Arizona knows what it means to experience catastrophic loss, having suffered a tragic wildfire and flooding disaster history of its own. Along with other agencies and organizations, the Grand Canyon State deployed one of its own to help the U.S. Virgin Islands in their long recovery

Through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) process, Pinal County Community Development Department Building Safety Code Enforcement Specialist John Flumerfelt, deployed to St. Croix, a district of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Flumerfelt’s primary duties were to make sure buildings were up to code and equipped with adequate safety plans.

To be effective, Flumerfelt blended building safety code language from several documents that ranged from local to international levels. He also adjusted to differences in the construction of St. Croix buildings.

“Very few places in the continental U.S. need to design and construct structures with the consideration of both the high winds and high seismic conditions that exist in the Virgin Islands,” Flumerfelt said. “Modern buildings in the Virgin Islands are most routinely constructed of reinforced masonry and concrete floors and walls.”

During disasters, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) empowers states to share resources with other states in need. A longstanding participant of the EMAC program, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs coordinates all-hazard mutual aid to states experiencing wildfires, floods, extreme storms and other emergencies. Established in 1996, EMAC provides effective, scalable and efficient assistance (resources and personnel) in responding to declared emergencies nationwide.

“I think the EMAC process is phenomenal for what it is able to do, and to me the process was logical and comfortable,” Flumerfelt said.

St. Croix is an island that is just 82 square miles in size, with a population of a little more than 50,000 people. Flumerfelt served as a building inspector there from March 12 through April 3, 2018 to assist a short-staffed office as the region continued to rebuild.

“In any response to a crisis, there will be unknowns,” Flumerfelt said. “But the EMAC program and its administrators gave me enough information so that I could be adaptive.”

Through his deployment experience to St. Croix, Flumerfelt learned a lot about the informed, resilient residents of the small island territory removed from the continental U.S.

“I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Crucians,” Flumerfelt said. “There’s a lot of social interconnection; it’s easy to have conversations and be brought into the relevant current events of the island.  Often during the Hurricane Maria's recovery period , Hurricane Hugo, from 1989, was referenced. Island-wide, there’s a sense that whatever is necessary to be done will be done to minimize the damage that storms of this magnitude can cause.”

Over the course of his career, Flumerfelt’s interest in addressing public needs through agency cooperation and public input led him to serving in the public sector. His passion for helping others is what motivated him to develop and apply structure safety codes. Flumerfelt says his work with the EMAC process has been rewarding and he hopes to build on his experience.

“I’m happy to see that the mutual assistance programs are expanding their effectiveness, not only in delivering first and second responders to areas of need, but also many others who may be able to assist in crisis recovery,” Flumerfelt said. “It’s exciting to know that in this modern time of advanced communication and information gathering, we can have in place ways to deliver specific expertise to situations where that expertise is timely and effective.  I have a lot of enthusiasm to improve that cooperation.”