Arizona preps for earthquake through mass migration and care exercise

Arizona preps for earthquake through mass migration and care exercise

  • A tabletop participant holds speaks into a microphone as other participants listen attentively.
  • A conference room is filled with tabletop participants
  • A tabletop participant holds speaks into a microphone as other participants listen attentively.
Participants engage in the National Mass Care Tabletop Exercise

In comparison to its coastal neighbor, the Grand Canyon State does not experience high levels of earthquake activity. In southern California alone, residents experience about 10,000 earthquakes each year. Because of this ratio, Arizona can be a reliable partner during earthquake response.

Planning under the adage of it’s not a question of if, but when the big one may hit, Arizona is taking steps now to be ready for California’s call.

In preparation for the Arizona 2018 National Mass Care Exercise (NMCE) and the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Exercise, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) hosted the National Mass Care Tabletop Exercise, on Feb 13, 2018.

Local, state, federal and tribal partners, private sector and voluntary organizations, gathered for a tabletop exercise focused on developing and discussing the state’s mass migration and mass care capabilities.

During this tabletop discussion, participants played under the scenario of a catastrophic earthquake hitting southern California, causing Arizona to receive and care for a mass migration of more than 400,000 evacuees.

Nichole Fortson, DEMA State Exercise Branch Manager, has worked for several months in collaboration with multiple agencies to coordinate this unique exercise program.

“We are working to bring the mass care world together with the all hazards world,” said Fortson. “This is a great opportunity for all partners of the Whole Community to understand agency roles and responsibilities.”

Participants represented agencies and organizations from a broad range of fields including healthcare, transportation, aviation, energy, communications, banking, public utility and retail. 

Although government plays a direct response in this scenario, Whitney Hensiak, DEMA Voluntary Agency and Private Sector Liaison, works to incorporate private sector and voluntary organizations into the response and recovery process.

“The tabletop exercise provided an educational foundation for the private sector and non-governmental organization partners to see some of the issues we expect to face in the full-scale exercise,” said Hensiak.

Hensiak recognizes the value external partners bring to the table when government agencies respond to a crisis and understands the vital resources they offer. For Hensiak, the tabletop exercise was an engagement mechanism where all players collaborated across sectors to discuss plans.

“An exercise is meant to educate and find gaps, for participants to question processes and take a deep-dive into their procedures,” said Hensiak. “This exercise enabled partners to identify what they need to look at.”   

The mass migration and care scenario allowed participants to consider multiple facets of emergency management including sheltering operations, feeding and services for access and functional needs communities.

Participants discussed shelters, assistance centers and hotels as a backup resource. Topics explored included access to personal care assistance, shelter equipment and supplies, along with diverse communication needs of the public, such as different languages.

Key takeaways from the tabletop discussion have already produced outcomes that will impact the full-scale exercise and beyond.

“Participants learned about how agencies can help during this type of event,” said Fortson. “Now agencies are working together before the full-scale exercise to fill in the gaps.”

The complexity of this scenario asks emergency managers to identify potential problems that may arise during response, such as problems with cellular lines, unaccompanied minors, disruption in social services to Californians and reunifying separated family members.

Arizona plans to exercise care and sheltering capabilities for even California’s most unique evacuees, exotic animals and household pets.

The NMCE and NDMS full-scale exercise will run May 21-24 and take place at DEMA and various locations throughout Arizona.

At these locations, participants will have the opportunity to exercise their plans in full-scale by standing up sheltering operations, activating coordination centers and even practicing the transport of patients via Department of Defense aircraft to participating hospitals for care.

Several months of planning across agencies will culminate in producing one of the largest exercises Arizona has experienced, with up to 1,000 registered to participate.

When looking at what is to come in May, Hensiak says the success of this exercise lies in the educational opportunity it presents, “If this exercise provides our partners with a means to work through, evaluate and learn from their plans and procedures, then that is a win.”