Disasters do occur in Arizona

Disasters do occur in Arizona

Images of disasters and events that occurred in Arizona history

It was a typical summer day in July 2010 when monsoon storm clouds moved into the Flagstaff area. Skies darkened, thunder started to rumble and rain began to fall. Two inches of rain fell on the steep terrain of the Schultz Fire burn area in 30 minutes.

The fire-scarred landscape was unable to absorb the fast falling rain. Water, debris, ash and mud swept down the hill, causing severe damage to infrastructure (e.g., power, telephone, waterlines) and roads. Arizona’s Governor declared a state of emergency for Coconino County and the Hopi Tribe to assist in recovery efforts. The State requested a federal declaration to assist with recovery and the President made a federal Major Disaster Declaration for Coconino County and the Hopi Tribe for the Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). 

The Schultz Flood is just one of 195 declared disasters to happen in Arizona since 1966. It is also one of ten current open disasters in the state. Six have been federally declared disasters, allowing funding support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Before disaster assistance can be requested from the federal government, certain steps must be taken at the local and state levels. The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) is the state agency that works with local jurisdictions after a disaster has hit.

“We provide stakeholder coordination for infrastructure recovery and mitigation programming,” said Julie Augeri, DEMA’s Recovery Branch Manager. “We provide technical assistance through the deployment of disaster reservists on our staff for preliminary damage assessments, as well as other service needs, including long-term resources for rebuilding.”

DEMA’s Infrastructure group supports local communities and governments in recovery from a declared disaster. After a disaster hits and the local jurisdiction declares it is above their capability to recover alone, DEMA’s team conducts a preliminary damage assessment (PDA).

“The purpose of the PDA is to quantify damage, in terms of dollars, and determine if the damage exceeds the local jurisdiction capability to recover, and if additional state or federal assistance is necessary,” said Rebecca Trayler, DEMA’s Infrastructure Coordinator.

If the assessment proves recovery is above the jurisdiction’s capability, the Governor can declare a state of emergency for the affected area, releasing up to $200,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Fund. The money can be used to pay for overtime costs for emergency response personnel, repairs to infrastructure and other emergency-related expenses like debris removal.

DEMA administers the Governor’s Emergency Fund and works with affected jurisdictions to collect necessary documentation and provide funding until the disaster closes. A disaster doesn’t close until all the work is done, inspected, documented, audited, and all payments have been disbursed.

“Funding sources must be secured, contracting enacted, final inspections completed and an audit performed before closure is achieved,” said Augeri.

When a disaster is more than the State and local jurisdictions can handle, the Governor will request federal assistance from FEMA through a presidentially declared disaster.  DEMA administers the FEMA grants (PA and HMGP) for eligible public entities to repair and restore damaged public facilities in a declared disaster area.

PA grants help with response and recovery from disasters. Funds can be used for debris removal, emergency protective measures, road and bridge repair, utilities, water control, and permanent restoration of infrastructure. The state or grantee must provide a 25 percent match in funding for the work.

The HMGP provides grants to affected jurisdictions to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people or property from natural disasters. The funds can be used to retrofit structures, elevate flood-prone structures, create floodwall systems, and acquire property. Potential savings must be more than the cost of implementing the project. The state or grantee must provide a 25 percent match in funding for the project.  

“We want communities to protect themselves before a disaster damages it instead of rebuilding after the disaster,” said Duke Jones, DEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Officer. “Mitigating potential problems helps to prevent loss, as well as aid in recovery and rebuilding the community.” 

Recovering from disasters is not a quick process. A disaster may occur in a very short time frame, but the recovery process can take years. Arizona is still “recovering,” from disasters that happened more than 10 years ago. However, if the recovery work is done correctly, the community may be protected from future damage.

Open disasters in Arizona:

·         Arizona has been in a drought emergency since 1999. Lack of precipitation continues to reduce surface and ground water supplies and stream flows, endangering crops, property and livestock.

·         Winter storms caused flooding to multiple counties in February 2005. (Federally declared)

·         Multiple monsoon storms in summer 2006 brought hail, damaging winds and flash floods to southern and northern Arizona. (Federally declared)

·         In October 2010, three days of heavy rain generated flooding in the Havasupai Indian Reservation, making the main route into Supai village impassable. (Federally declared)

·         High winds and heavy snow led to significant flooding and record snowfall, posing extreme danger to public health and safety in northern Arizona in January 2010. (Federally declared)

·         Freezing temperatures from an arctic air mass in December 2012 caused severe damage to the Navajo Nation’s potable water infrastructure, impacting human lives, public facilities, educational facilities, housing and businesses.

·         A lightning-caused wildfire consumed 1,800 acres in Yavapai County in June 2013, damaging over 100 homes and public infrastructure.

·         In September 2013, heavy rains eroded roadways and infrastructure, and isolated residents in Apache and Greenlee counties.

·         Hurricane Norbert combined with a monsoon storm, causing record rainfall and severe flooding in September 2014. Transportation infrastructure was impacted significantly, multiple roads were impassable, and homes were inundated with floodwaters. (Federally declared)