Partners Work together for Whole Community Preparedness

Partners Work together for Whole Community Preparedness

Presenters talk about preparedness for their families and communities at the 2015 Partners in Preparedness Summit.

Teresa Ehnert, Bureau Chief of Public Health Emergency Preparedness for the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) looked out over the full banquet room with a smile on her face.

"We wouldn't be one of the front runners [in the country] for Access and Functional Needs preparedness without all of you," she said.

Ehnert was speaking to a group of people determined to improve emergency planning and preparedness for those with Access and Functional Needs (AFN). The 2015 Partners in Preparedness Summit, held [when] and [where], focused on emergency preparedness and planning issues for children and families with AFN, and tips on augmenting preparedness plans.

ADHS works with the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council (AZSILC) to provide the summit each year.  SILC works to promote the equality, inclusion and choice for people with disabilities through collaboration and public policy change. SILC seeks to promote inclusive, accessible communities that value differences.

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) and SILC have a local Access and Functional Needs planning tool available online with estimated demographics listed for the state and individual counties.

The Partners in Preparedness Summit was the idea of the Arizona AFN Task Force, created in 2011 to advocate for the AFN population to ensure emergency planning meets the needs of everyone in the community. The task force members come from state, county and local agencies.

“The task force continues to evaluate and adjust its strategic plans, goals and objectives,” said Ehnert. “Collaboration has helped set a course of action to identify the players, the leaders, and the needs of the community… who does what, where and when.”

Anthony Cox, DEMA’s Operations and Coordination Assistant Director, says that Arizona’s emergency management community has made some milestones in AFN emergency planning.

“DEMA procured and hosts three Access and Functional Needs Shelter Support Packages. These packages have been deployed to several emergency shelters in partnership with the American Red Cross,” Cox said. “Prior to knowing the extended needs of the shelter population, these packages contain temporary equipment to be used upon initial shelter opening. Items such as ramps, solar chargers, restroom and shower necessities, AFN cots and other things that people with disabilities may need upon arrival.”                  

Dan Porth, DEMA’s Human Services Coordinator coordinates AFN at DEMA. He also serves on the National Emergency Management Association’s AFN task force. Porth helped develop the Disability, AFN Emergency Planning Guidance, a framework to support states and local jurisdictions looking for guidance for the whole community planning process.

Mohave County has also created an Access and Functional Needs Emergency Needs Task Force. Byron Steward, Mohave County’s Emergency Management Coordinator says the task force focuses on encouraging members of the AFN community to develop emergency plans, including a network of caregivers to provide assistance during an emergency.

“The task force is working on helping individuals prepare for and react to disasters,” Steward said. “Public outreach and assistance is part of this, as is training for first responders, and identifying shelter facilities for those where a general population shelter wouldn’t work.”

Another concern for the AFN community is shelter accessibility. The American Red Cross takes all citizens into account when looking for places to shelter those that have been evacuated from their homes.

“Safe shelters are our number one priority. We want our clients to feel safe and to be able to get on with their lives,” said Beth Boyd, Regional Disaster Program Officer for the Greater Phoenix Chapter of the American Red Cross. “When we look at shelters, we look at location, ADA compliance, safety, capacity, and day-to-day living. It’s important to keep morale up while the shelter is open.”

Planning for emergencies with a child with access and functional needs is another concern. The planning needs extend past the home. Ray Morris with Dad’s for Special Kids says people need to start with the basics.

“Your plan needs to be built around the person’s individual needs,” Morris said. “Be informed, make a plan, identify a social and support network for your child, get the go-kit ready, and put your plan into action.”

Morris says practicing the plan is the key to success. "Our family builds our foundation of preparedness based on fire drills. Everyone needs to do them at home,” he said. “Plans can change once you practice your drill. You learn what will and won't work and adjust accordingly to make it work."

The need for emergency planning and preparedness extends to schools as well. Rob Rowley, Coconino County Emergency Manager says when working on emergency planning, “schools need to be involved from the beginning. They need to be included in planning, exercising, and training.”

Coconino County received a grant in April from the Arizona Department of Education to do just that. The School Emergency Training and Technical Assistance Program (SE TTAP) provides training and technical assistance in emergency operations planning and response to public and private school districts within Coconino County. The goal is to establish relationships with county school districts and incorporate their emergency response plans into county emergency management response planning.

Sonya Pedersen and Alan Anderson are the SE TTAP Emergency Planners for Coconino County.  

“We reach out to school districts county-wide to establish a working relationship between the district and Coconino County Emergency Management and arrange to meet with the district to review their emergency response plans,” Pedersen said. “Following the initial meeting, we provide the district with a report outlining possible gaps and provide suggestions for remediation.”

“Schools can be better prepared for potential emergencies by developing relationships with partners in emergency response and holding regular safety and security meetings; streamlining emergency response plans and utilizing the Arizona Department of Education emergency response plan templates and guidelines; and taking advantage of county Emergency Management provided training and technical assistance,” Pedersen added.


Back at the Summit, Ehnert thanked the Disaster Ready Champions as the day wound down. “Arizona will continue to make strides in AFN emergency planning, thanks to the early adopters who have created cultures where they are actively involved in the disaster preparedness process,” she said. “They take their preparedness efforts and educate others and collaborate with other champions to keep the momentum moving forward.”