Tribal Emergency Managers Discuss Intricacies of Emergency Response and Response Resources

Tribal Emergency Managers Discuss Intricacies of Emergency Response and Response Resources

  • A Navajo Nation Department of Health representative stands behind a podium in a red long sleeve shirt and glasses, as he addresses a group of emergency managers during the 2017 Tribal Emergency Preparedness Summit.
David Nez, Navajo Nation Department of Health representative, addresses a group of emergency managers during the 2017 Tribal Emergency Preparedness Summit, May 17.

Just in case. That was the credo of the Tribal Emergency Preparedness Summit, hosted by the Arizona Department of Military and Emergency Affairs (DEMA) and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), May 17, 2017.


Nearly 90 professional emergency managers, military leaders, public health professionals, health service providers and first responders from fire and law enforcement gathered to discuss the intricacies of emergency response for Arizona’s 22 tribes and the various resources that are available to them.


Each year, the Summit provides information about responses operations on tribal lands, new developments in emergency planning, mitigation and recovery funding and assistance, and preparedness and response posturing from various hazards including wildland fires and floods to cyber security and pandemics.


“The Summits strengthens the relationships between the Tribes and the response partners who will be there when needed,” Said Joseph Urrea, DEMA Tribal Liaison. “Events like this provide information on the resources that are available to support the Tribal Emergency Managers in their efforts to protect their people and lands.”


The morning started with an invocation from the Honorable Council Member Ricardo Leonard of the Salt-River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The Adjutant General and Director of DEMA, Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire, welcomed the attendees. He charged Summit participants to break down barriers, buoy community trust and confidence, and create partnerships in order to promote continuity of operations, keeping safety of person and property as the highest priority.


Teresa Ehnert, ADHS Bureau Chief of Public Health Emergency, called participants to harness the ongoing work that has been done so we can respond together to emergencies.


Travis Schulte, DEMA legislative liaison, updated the crowd on legislative items that impact emergency response including the governor’s newly-released budget. One agency-level change moves the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency’s to become part of ADHS, in effort to better serve residents. Federally, he briefed about Apache water settlement monies could now be used for rural water system supply infrastructure, which is reassuring in times of emergency.


Randy Brawley of FEMA’s Preparedness and Planning office, updated attendees on the progress and implementation of Tribal Declarations Pilot Guidance among many other planning projects. The importance of the declarations document is that it opens opportunities for tribes to request funding from the federal government under a Presidential Disaster Declaration to help mitigate damage from emergencies and disasters.


“No one is in an isolated vacuum any longer,” Brawley said, who worked with tribes throughout the western U.S. to solidify the document.


Later in the morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented free resources including kits, educational materials and online communications templates for tribes to combat the Zika virus, mosquito control and current threats to remote communities. CDC’s plan for nationwide response to Zika, based on the agency’s Ebola response plan, maps out how support is provided for affected communities including response teams, epidemiologists, medical professionals, communications and more, as requested by tribes.


The CDC resources are critical for tribes and other communities as Arizona is home to 40 different mosquito species, some can carry multiple devastating diseases such as Zika, yellow fever, West Nile, and encephalitis. The agency suggested area-wide surveys, eliminating mosquito breeding places and implementing education programs.


The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Cocopah Tribe’s Emergency Manager, Mike Fila, presented an example of multijurisdictional response during the Alamo Fire in 2016. Running through the stages of launching and operating an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Fila emphasized the ability of an EOC to be scalable as the emergency evolves. The EOC personnel working the Alamo Fire dealt with weather, air quality, tourists, evacuations and the intricacies of communicating with public officials. Chris Nutter (ADEQ) gave an overview of air monitoring services the agency offers, from dusk tracking to oxygen levels, at no cost to the community.


The WebEOC presentation during lunch, as presented by DEMA, ADHS, and the Navajo Nation, showcased how tools like this bring multiple agencies, jurisdictions and stakeholders together in one space online. The ability for information sharing, documentation and situation awareness in real-time was demonstrated by the Navajo Nation when Dave Nez, the Navajo Nation Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, discussed the use of WebEOC during their Operation Jini exercise. 


Following lunch the Emergency Manager from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Deputy Fire Chief Carlos Valadez, shared his Tribe’s response to the Cedar Fire as well the multijurisdictional response support that was provided. The external support was provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, state agencies (DEMA, Department of Economic Security and Department of Transportation), Navajo and Gila counties, Indian Health Services, the America Red Cross and Native Partnerships.  Additional presentations focused on work completed by the Burned Area Emergency Response team and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers which addressed the post-fire cascading affects that could impact the community of Cedar Creek.


The day concluded with presentations by the American Red Cross, ADOT, ADHS, the Arizona National Guard Joint Task Force, and the Arizona Department of Administration.  The agencies discussed myriad resources for tribes including sheltering support, transportation, Strategic National Stockpile coordination, mission-ready capabilities, cyber incident resources and other disaster management tools.


“The Tribal Emergency Management programs in Arizona represent some of the most prepared and ready to respond in the country,” Urrea said. “As long as there continues to be interest in these Summits we will continue to hold them.”