Regional meetings bring emergency managers together to discuss concerns and plans

Regional meetings bring emergency managers together to discuss concerns and plans

The 2015 Statewide Earthquake exercise is one example of Arizona emergency management agencies working together.

Throughout the year, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Emergency Management leadership team meets with the county and tribal emergency managers. DEMA uses a regional approach to make it easier for the emergency managers across Arizona’s 113,000 square miles to attend without straying too far from their home offices. Recently, three meetings were held – one in Kingman, one in the Phoenix metro area and one in Nogales with twelve counties and five tribes in attendance.

The meetings are active listening sessions, allowing DEMA to hear and understand the concerns of emergency managers or what they need. This format allows for crucial information gathering. Wendy Smith-Reeve, DEMA’s Deputy Director believes these are some of the most important meetings held during the year.  

“These meetings help our leadership to understand how we can support and engage in preparedness, operations, and support grant management needs at the county and local level in the upcoming weeks and months,” Smith-Reeve explains. “We listen with the intent to understand, and seek opportunities to serve and support. Quality customer service is the key to DEMA's success. Our customers are the ones who advise if we are meeting their needs.”

Mohave County hosted the north region meeting in Kingman. Byron Steward is the Emergency Management Coordinator for Mohave County. “I think the regional meetings are extremely valuable and it is important that each county get a chance to host,” Steward said. “We get a chance to see where the other emergency managers are located, how their organization is set up, sometimes meet more of their staff, become more familiar with the host county and its emergency management challenge.”

The emergency managers shared updates, activities and issues they are facing. A common theme of the region was concerns about maintenance on various water infrastructures in smaller communities. Throughout the meeting, the emergency managers offered ways to help each other and share resources, and to identify potential solutions that will benefit all of them. As one attendee said, “One counties problem is usually another counties problem as well.”

The Gila River Indian Community hosted the central region meeting. “We are always looking for opportunities to engage with our stakeholders and partners and this was a great opportunity to support them,” said Robert DeLeon, Gila River Indian Community’s Emergency Manager. “In addition to meeting face- to- face, what I appreciate most is the issues brought up to DEMA are not forgotten. As part of the meeting, prior issues are discussed and updates provided. It is great to see that they are taken seriously and follow up is provided.”

Assisting schools with their plans and preparedness goals was a common theme, as was THIRA, the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment. Each county participates in THIRA (whether it is regionally or as part of the State) to better understand its risks and determine what they would need in order to respond to potential hazards. Communities map their risks to the 32 core capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal. The counties can then better determine what to prepare for, what resources they may need, and what they can share with other communities.

Cliff Puckett, Emergency Manager for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community tries to attend as many of the meetings as possible to continue to strengthen the relationships he has developed with the other counties and tribes.

“Tribal, county and state emergency management are very connected in Arizona, and that is a good thing because it is not always the case in other parts of the country. We rely on one another to serve our respective jurisdictions,” said Puckett. “To rely on others to serve your respective jurisdiction is not a weakness, it is the smart way of doing business. These meeting give us a very comfortable environment to discuss what we are doing and how we can improve the way we do it in the future.”

Santa Cruz County hosted the meeting in the southern region and the group discussed issues that no other counties deal with as they are part of an international border, including Mexico transitioning to 9-1-1 and an upcoming tri-national exercise.

“Emergency management is all about building relationships and trust. Small group meetings such as this foster relationship building. It’s also an important opportunity to get face time,” said Ray Sayre, Santa Cruz County Emergency Management Director. “We all have similar concerns and issues. I did not know that we were all having small water utility issues until Director Smith-Reeve discussed the problem.”

A big topic of discussion was standardization of messaging and emergency operations center activations, as well as plans and WebEOC’s board.

After the emergency managers share their updates, they have the opportunity to discuss their needs from DEMA, whether it be setting up an exercise, or reaching out to other state agencies about concerns to help speed up the response. One of the most repeated requests was for future exercises about active shooters and mass evacuations.

Smith-Reeve and her team spent time discussing concerns and sharing updates about programs that affect everyone. One program that DEMA just completed work on is the State Mutual Aid Response Team (SMART) program. The SMART program pre-identifies state, tribal, county and local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) members qualified to assist other EOCs during emergency incidents and related events. When in need of staffing for an EOC, government officials will be able to quickly ascertain and request supplemental staffing resources. 

“I am very pleased that we are moving ahead with the SMART concept for regional EOC support,” Sayre added. “As well, I support WebEOC Wednesdays and other concepts that standardize our operational posture.” 

In the next year, DEMA plans to work closely with the emergency managers on the standardization of evacuation terminology and messaging, private water utility concerns, and shelter logistics with the American Red Cross and partners.

Mohave County’s Steward believes the interaction among the various county emergency managers and DEMA is the best part about these meetings. “The roundtable format allows everyone to voice their experiences, ideas, and lessons learned. By meeting at the regional level, topics and issues of pressing concern to the counties within that region can be thoroughly addressed, and the DEMA attendees can bring in perspectives on similar or the same issues from the other regions,” he added.