Emergency Management shares similarities internationally

Emergency Management shares similarities internationally

DEMA's Anthony Cox and Wendy Smith-Reeve meet with delegation from Israel, who were visiting Arizona in partnership with Firefighters without Borders and the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation.

A delegation from Israel’s emergency preparation, response and recovery team recently visited Arizona for 10 days as part of the Firefighters Without Borders program in partnership with the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation (GTFF).

Patty Vallance, a GTFF volunteer, said the visit was a follow-up to a trip GTFF made to Israel in 2013. The delegation exchange allowed both groups to explore “best practices” of emergency first response and to incorporate those, as appropriate, in each region.

“Israel has a system that is national in scope and incorporates the entire continuum of care and response from civilian to professional. The Home Front Command, a branch of the Israel Defense Forces, takes the lead in national disasters, both natural and manmade,” Vallance said.

After a week in Tucson, the Israeli delegation travelled to Phoenix to meet the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) leadership and to tour the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC).

The head of the delegation, Abraham Borger, is Chief of Policy for the Israel Emergency Management Authority. He was looking forward to interacting with state leadership “to begin the dialogue that leads to appreciation, understanding and cooperation of the state's role in managing disaster response.”

The other delegates represented agencies that play a significant role in planning, development, and active crisis management. Meeting their professional peers and being able to exchange ideas and protocols face-to-face was essential to providing a constructive experience for all of them.

DEMA Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve and Operations Section Assistant Director Anthony Cox sat down with the visitors to discuss how each group prepares, trains, and responds to disasters and emergencies.

Borger said the Minister of Public Security coordinates the responses to natural disasters and acts of terrorism until the government declares an emergency. The declaration authorizes the Ministry of Defense to use the police or the army to assume command. “The local authorities are responsible to coordinate and integrate the plans and implement them in emergencies,” he said. 

In Arizona, emergency response falls to local government authorities (e.g., emergency management, police and/or fire). When the event gets too large for the local response agencies to handle, they request assistance from neighboring counties and/or the state.

Borger shared that Israel’s Emergency Management Authority holds one large, five-day long exercise each year. Three days are a tabletop exercise and two days are a full scale exercise. The scenario may change a little, but it is usually war-based.

DEMA holds or participates in up to 40 tabletop, functional and full scale exercises each year. The scenarios are often different, ranging from an emergency at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station to a wildfire in Northern Arizona and a flood in the southern half of the state.

Arizona spends time each year exercising the recovery part of a disaster. Israel does not.

“We are focused on the response. It's not an excuse,” said Guy Caspi, Chief MCI Instructor. “We need to start dealing with the recovery effort. It's important to do this and get proficient. We talk recovery, but that’s not enough." 

Arizona works closely with its local government partners on an emergency response plan.

“We update our State Emergency Response and Recovery Plan every year with our county partners,” Smith-Reeve said. “We actively work with our communities and partners to ensure the state plan is as current as it can be. Identifying who is part of what function, what their roles and responsibilities are, and what resources they have available. We update and review this after every meeting, exercise, and event.”

Israel works with its citizens and communities to help them be independent after a disaster.

“We won’t be able to get to them right away, so we have our citizens help themselves. We give them 70 hours of training. We teach them light search and rescue, first aid, how to extinguish small fires, and more so our citizens can take care of themselves,” Major Sivan Inbar of the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command said. “They come to us to participate and learn. We’ve established 300 civilian units in the last few years (30-40 people a unit). We want the population to be ready for anything.”

In Israel, the training begins in schools. They incorporate Certified Emergency Response Teams (CERT) training into the curriculum to teach children how to prepare for emergencies. 

“For years, we've had soldiers go to fifth graders to teach them how to prepare for any kind of emergency. They have homework to go home and practice. By 11th grade, they are receiving CERT training,” Inbar said. “Every two years, starting in fifth grade, our students learn something about preparing for emergencies. The beautiful thing is that we are doing this in all of our communities. The cooperation is amazing.”

Arizona has CERT programs as well, along with Teen CERT. But all CERT programs are voluntary, and the Teen CERT program focuses mainly on school safety.

“Going into the schools is the only way we are going to get a different mindset about preparedness, “said Smith-Reeve. “There's opportunity for us to engage a broader audience."

The relationships that were developed during the visit to Arizona will help to facilitate and maintain ongoing dialogue and interagency and international understanding and cooperation.

“We wanted to visit DEMA in order to learn about preparedness and response activities in Arizona in comparison to the activities in Israel. We discovered that we are dealing with the same emergency situations, but we use a variety of solutions and methods,” Borger said. “We go back home with more tools in our toolbox which allows us another perspective. We also got to understand the meaning of the method of coordination between the vast number of agencies in the rehabilitation stage in Arizona.”

“It is rare to have an opportunity to exchange information with international partners on the other side of the globe,” Smith-Reeve said after the visit. “It was interesting to hear the similarities of challenges we all face, and we both walked away with appreciation for areas where our partners are excelling.”