Arizona agencies work together during disasters

Arizona agencies work together during disasters

An Arizona Department of Corrections Wildland Fire Crew monitoring a fire

In the summer of 2011, the Wallow Fire burned 538,049 acres (840 square miles), crossing into different jurisdictions as it burned in the White Mountains.  


At one point, more than 2,800 fire personnel were on the ground, while even more worked behind the scenes helping evacuees, sharing information with the community, monitoring smoke, setting up road blocks, etc. Responders came from over 20 local and state agencies (along with non-governmental organizations) to work their response roles as the fire burned in the White Mountains, crossing into different jurisdictions as the days passed.


The Wallow Fire is a good example of Arizona’s “Whole Community” approach to a disaster, a sharing of responsibility amongst state, local, tribal and federal governments; non-governmental and faith-based organizations; private sector businesses; and communities, families and individuals.


The State of Arizona Emergency Response and Recovery Plan (SERRP) outlines unified agency response during a disaster. The SERRP identifies emergency roles and responsibilities of all state agencies in the event of a disaster. It describes how resources are used in response and recovery activities.


The SERRP provides a framework that different agencies can work from together to manage an incident. It allows for coordination and integration of various partners, efficient utilization of resources and improved communications across jurisdictions and even between public and private sectors.


Fifteen Emergency Support Functions (ESF) are listed in the SERRP to define what type of resources may be needed. The ESF’s help determine what emergency response and recovery assistance will be provided.


While each agency has its own response plan, they also contribute to the state plan. The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) is the keeper of the plan. DEMA coordinates the cooperative efforts of all governmental agencies to reduce suffering and loss resulting from a disaster. DEMA Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve is the State Coordinating Officer during any state emergency response and recovery.


“With more than 150 agency partners supporting Arizona's Emergency Response and Recovery Plan, it is vital that all partners participate in the planning updates to ensure accurate roles and responsibilities are outlined for their agency. These partners are the subject matter experts on what they can do to support the whole community in their time of need,” Smith-Reeve said. “When we are faced with emergent situations, we turn to this planning document as our starting point and modify as appropriate to address the specific situation at hand.  Identifying the partners and what they bring to the fight to support holistic response and recovery for the impacted community is critical for our citizens.”


DEMA personnel work to ensure the SERRP is up-to-date with current information from each agency and that procedures are in place to implement the various emergency support functions of the SERRP.


DEMA’s SERRP Planning Coordinator, Mariano Gonzalez, says it’s important for every agency to be involved in the SERRP. “We don’t know who or what agency we’ll need when we open the State Emergency Operations Center,” he said. “Each incident is unique, and we shape our response to meet the needs of the moment.”


DEMA employees have many ESF responsibilities outlined in the SERRP. Dan Porth is the Human Services Branch Manager at DEMA. One of his responsibilities is to coordinate ESF 6 Mass Care activities during an emergency response.


“If a wildland fire results in residential evacuations, ESF-6 is responsible for working with the local affected jurisdiction for the coordination of emergency sheltering, feeding those in shelters and coordinating the immediate personal needs of those evacuated (clothes, personal hygiene items, medications left behind, children’s items, etc),” Porth said.


“I would work with American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Association of Arizona Food Banks, Arizona Humane Society and other Arizona Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (AZVOAD) members to ensure all emergency facilities meet the need of the whole community, including those people with disabilities and other access and functional needs. When the State Emergency Operations Center is activated, we will hold daily (as needed) mass care conference calls to coordinate mass mare activities.”


The Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) supports multiple functions in the SERRP: Transportation and Infrastructure; Firefighting; Emergency Management; Resource Support; Public Safety and Security; and External Affairs.


Julie Augeri is DOC’s Emergency Preparedness Administrator. “We completed our support plan and validated it during the 2014 Statewide Exercise last year,” she said. “We stood up Functional Command and General Staff Teams at 20 locations for the full-day exercise. It was a beautiful thing (for an Emergency Administrator) to watch.”    


The DOC has 12 Wildland Fire Crews (which support ESF #4 – Firefighting) who respond to requirements for both firefighting as well as mitigation projects. They are available to provide resources to support rural, urban and wildland fire operations. The DOC is able to provide fire support as soon as they receive a call due to a pre-established Memorandum of Understanding with the State Forestry Division.


Inmates who want to join the fire crew must submit an application, pass a medical evaluation, and participate in a two-week boot camp. The inmates and staff receive training and must be wildland firefighter and equipment certified like any other fire crews.


Michelle Hutzelman is the DOC’s Senior Communications Center Specialist. She says their crews have an excellent relationship with other firefighting agencies and a reputation for being hard working.


“The crews work hand-in-hand with all other responders on an incident, including Command and General Staff, other wildland fire crews, helitack crews, private contractors, and civilian volunteers,” Hutzelman said. “They fight fires with Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Rural Metro, and local agencies. There is no separation; they all fight the fires together on the fire line.”


The Arizona Department of Water Resources has a part in the SERRP as well (ESF 3 – Public Works & Engineering), even in regards to wildfire. While not a first responder agency, the department has a role in mitigation and planning. The Flood Warning Program assists in the planning, design, and construction of flood warning systems.  


“The Flood Warning Program coordinates with local, state, and federal agencies during flood emergencies, typically post wildfires,” said Michelle Moreno, Public Information Officer for Water Resources. “Staff coordinates with county and city flood control programs along with the Salt River Project to facilitate the sharing of data critical to evaluating potential threats from flooding.”


Not a single agency is responsible or financially equipped for emergency planning, response and recovery. The State Emergency Response and Recovery Plan details the different agency responsibilities before, during and after an emergency, allowing each to do their part.