Tribal summit builds relationships across Arizona

Tribal summit builds relationships across Arizona

Attendees at the 2015 DEMA Tribal Summit

PHOENIX - Standing at the front of a crowded room, Councilmember Ricardo Leonard of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community softly shook the gourd in his hand and began to sing an uplifting spiritual song.


Councilmember Leonard’s song began the 2015 Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Tribal Summit. The third annual summit drew members of 13 tribes and representatives from nine state and federal agencies.


Wendy Smith-Reeve, DEMA’s Deputy Director, was happy to see the turnout be higher than prior summits. “The summit is important for our tribal partners to come together to share best practices, as well as bring any questions or concerns,” she said. “DEMA, as well as all of the state and federal partners who attended, are ready to provide support and assistance to our tribal partners.”


DEMA Tribal Liaison Joseph Urrea’s goal for the summit was to provide an opportunity for everyone to hear about emergency management, listen to best practices and discuss new ideas in the Indian communities.


“We also wanted to discuss projects and programs that could assist in strengthening tribal emergency management programs, develop effective collaborative working relationships, and encourage networking opportunities.”


Arizona Senator Carlyle Begay attended the morning portion of the summit. He was impressed with the representation from multiple tribes.


“It's remarkable to see so many of us to come together for an appreciated and focused meeting to talk emergency management in order to protect and prepare our communities,” he said.


Begay spoke about the importance of a community being prepared, and planning for natural disasters, as well as health emergencies.


“The reality is that we often lose focus on the impact that these issues (rural locations and/or health) have in our communities” he said. “Planning, preparedness and collaboration are important. Have the autonomity, foresight and knowledge to prepare for the worst, but expect the best. Work with your neighbors in this room. Network and identify areas that we can work on together to improve capacity.”


Besides the tribes coming together to talk, they were also at the summit to learn. Grants and funding is always a hot topic. Cliff Puckett, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Emergency Manager spoke about the importance of completing a Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA).


“The THIRA helps a community understand its threats and hazards to establish informed and defensible capability targets,” he said. “Besides, if you receive HSGP (Homeland Security Grant Program) funding, a THIRA is mandatory.”


Some communities struggle with the THIRA as it can be intimidating and time-intensive. Puckett says getting early buy-in from the entire community is key.


“Engage people in the emergency management program. Meet regularly, train together, discuss potential risks, and then review and plan,” he said. “Stakeholder engagement is mandatory. And if all else fails, remind them that it is tied to grants.”


Will Schultz, Arizona Division of Emergency Management’s Deputy Director covered the different grants that the tribes can apply for to assist with their emergency management duties.


“Grants are an excellent opportunity to enhance emergency management capabilities through matching federal dollars with agency dollars,” he said. “Depending on the grant program, you can take an agency dollar and get two, three, or four dollars in federal money to use in your jurisdiction.  These funds can be used to support personnel costs, planning efforts, mitigation measures, and many other areas that help strengthen and support your program and community as a whole.”


Captain David Cramer, Institutional Environmental Health Program Manager for Indian Health Services (IHS) talked about lessons learned from previous emergencies and how their tribal partners can help in being prepared for a potential emergency.


“Hospital accreditation standards require hospitals to conduct exercises with their community partners as well as share their hazard vulnerability analysis results,” Cramer said.  “Tribes can partner with their local IHS facility to conduct exercises and ensure both are anticipating and preparing for the same disaster scenarios. “


Lieutenant Mistin Ray, Phoenix Area IHS Preparedness Coordinator, added, “It’s not only important to include tribal officials in the discussion, but tribal elders as well since they have the historical perspective on disasters that can impact the community.”


Cramer’s last statements were about the importance of knowing your neighbors.


“Tribes and hospitals need to establish good working relationships with their local partners, especially their county Emergency Managers,” he said. “While the National Response Framework recognizes a government-to-government relationship between federal and tribal governments, in practical terms, it may take an extended period for the federal government to marshal the resources and direct them toward the tribal community when the county may have just what the tribe needs right next door.”


Michael Fila from the Cocopah Indian Tribe attended the summit because “it is very important to show that tribes are performing great things not only here in Arizona, but changing how things are done around the country.”


Fila added that the summit is a great place “for tribes who have a strong emergency management programs to help those tribes that are starting their program or just stuck on some issues that others may have dealt with already”.


Urrea is already thinking ahead to the next summit. “Seeing everyone come together and network was great. In fact, moving forward I hope to identify additional ways to foster more networking opportunities,” he said. “I feel there is a strong desire to see the different governments' emergency management programs work together more closely. What this collaboration will look like remains to be seen, but I am excited about what it can mean for everyone involved.”