Field Coordinators establish relationships with local partners

Field Coordinators establish relationships with local partners

DEMA's South Field Coordinator (first on left) tours Freeport-McMoRan Sierrita Mine in Pima County on October 1, 2015 with personnel from Pima County Emergency Management

When a disaster strikes in Arizona, an Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) representative isn’t far away.

In an effort to enhance collaboration with stakeholders throughout Arizona (including local, county and tribal partners), DEMA created the Field Operations Branch in 2015, and hired field coordinators to staff its three regional desks.

Field coordinators were hired and placed in Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson. Being located in the northern, central and southern parts of the state allows them to make immediate, face-to-face contact with local and regional partners in the event of a disaster.

“We have two missions. One is that we are an extension of DEMA, providing planning, exercises, training, mitigation, recovery and disaster response,” said Gene Wikle, Field Operations  Branch Manager. “We also work directly with the county emergency managers and tribal emergency managers in meeting any of their specific needs.”

The field coordinators are knowledgeable in all phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. They are ready to assist their partners in whatever they may need, whether it is day-to-day emergency management activities, coordinating resources during an incident or assisting in post-disaster assessments.

Sandra Espinoza is the South Region Field Coordinator. She works with six southern counties (Yuma, Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham and Greenlee) and five tribes in the region.

“I have done a broad variety of outreach to the emergency managers; attended meetings and trainings, made site visits and evaluated exercises in the interest of establishing relationships,” said Espinoza. “I really try to understand what their vulnerabilities may be, what their strengths are, [and] how DEMA can help support community resiliency.”

The benefits of representatives spread across Arizona are many. The regions differ dramatically and have different needs.

Paul Hellenberg works with six counties and nine tribes in the northern region, which includes mountain communities in Coconino County, cities and towns in the extremely hot regions of Mohave County and isolated communities like Havasupai Village in the Grand Canyon. He works to understand what may happen in each of these regions.

“My challenge is to learn and understand the extreme conditions of all the county and tribal areas relative to the emergency management issues. Some areas such as Yavapai and Coconino counties are very prone to flooding events. Wildfires are also a significant threat in northern Arizona as many communities are surrounded by forests,” said Hellenberg. “Northern Arizona also has several major transportation routes for truck and rail, transporting large quantities of hazardous materials. Many of the communities are small along this route and a DEMA Field Coordinator close by would help expedite the mobilization of resources.”

“The southern region is unique in its geography, climate, flora and fauna. But in addition to that, it is bordered by Mexico, which poses unique challenges,” Espinoza said.

The field coordinators will end up doing a variety of work for their partners, depending on a variety of things – the size of the county, the size of an incident, even the size of the staff.

“Many times, a county emergency manager will let me know what is happening, even if they don’t need support,” said Espinoza. “The other end of the spectrum would be they need assistance with coordination of resources, or staffing their Emergency Operations Center.”

Hellenberg has been able to develop relationships with his partners by participating in local training, exercises and meetings. He recently served as safety officer for an active shooter exercise in La Paz County; his job was to assure personnel safety, and to monitor and/or anticipate hazardous and unsafe situations.

“As with anything that we do at DEMA, it takes people and good relationships to make things happen. Relationships with people are critical in times of emergency,” Hellenberg said. “The best method is to build relationships before an event happens. It’s important to build trust with people so they know you are there to help and aren’t looking over their shoulders or telling them what they should be doing.”