Emergency Managers Build Relationships

Emergency Managers Build Relationships

County and tribal emergency managers sharing updates and discussing concerns

The relationship between the Arizona county and tribal emergency managers is one in which they communicate with each other regularly throughout the year. One way they do this is by coming together to share information and discuss problems.



Recently, more than 40 representatives from 12 counties and four tribes attended the semi-annual Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) County and Tribal Emergency Managers meeting held in downtown Phoenix.


Wendy Smith Reeve, DEMA’s Deputy Director, was pleased to see such a good turnout from the local jurisdictions and tribes. "The benefits of creating forums for open discussion and dialogue are to identify common challenges as well as sharing best practices,” she said. “We identify areas that together we want to collaborate on best solutions; plus, it’s an opportunity for sharing current achievements, and any changes to local, tribal, state or federal guidance, laws, and regulations."


In the spirit of sharing, Smith-Reeve started off the meeting by talking about the changes to DEMA’s organizational structure. She discussed how the changes promote efficiencies in the agency and allows DEMA to better serve its customers.


Teresa Ehnert, the Bureau Chief for Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Public Health Emergency Preparedness Office, talked about the work that was done by the Governor’s Council on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response (comprised of state and multi-county personnel) to better prepare the state to respond to such public health threats as Ebola.


“Our focus is on community preparedness, ensuring consistency through the state; collaborating with healthcare systems to assess needs; training with partners; public health surveillance and EPI (epidemiological) investigation.”


Owen Zorge, DEMA’s Information Technology and Assurance Director, presented on the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) to the group. “IPAWS is a standards-based, authenticated public alerting system available for federal, state, tribal and local alerting authorities,” he said. “It allows an alerting authority to have access to multiple alert disseminators including Emergency Alert System (EAS, broadcaster alerts), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA, cellular phone alerts), NOAA radio, Internet services (web sites, widgets and feeds) and other state/local unique alerting systems from one IPAWS message origination tool.”


Zorge wanted to share the program with the emergency managers because having the counties, tribes and state collaborate on IPAWS governance and solutions is crucial to successful alerting. “IPAWS will make Arizona as a whole, better at alerting the public by establishing messaging best practices and resilient systems,” he said.


Common themes were mentioned during the county/tribal updates. The discussions centered around technology and communication systems updates and needs. Robert Rowley, Coconino County’s Emergency Manager wanted to talk to the group about Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and activations.


“I brought up the idea of standardizing the terminology of the levels of EOC activation,” Rowley said. The emergency managers discussed the potential confusion when one county has different terms than the one next to it. They plan to have a workshop later in the year to dig deeper into the subject, as well as discuss standardizing evacuation terminology throughout the counties.


Charles Kmet, Pinal County’s Emergency Manager looks forward to the updates from each county. “It is important to have (and attend) these meetings because it is an opportunity for us to interact with each other… and to report out updates of what each county EM program is doing,” said Kmet. “It often leads to ‘lessons learned’ and ‘best practices’ moments which could allow the other programs to improve their service delivery to their county.”


The County and Tribal Emergency Managers understand the importance of communicating with one another during the year. They know that it helps their own work to be aware of what is happening in the jurisdictions around them. What’s more, they know it’s beneficial to be familiar with one another before an emergency.


“It is a well-worn out cliché but I firmly believe that you need know your partners and stakeholders face and first name before the disaster or event,” said Cliff Puckett, Emergency Manager for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. “The first time you call someone and ask for assistance should not be the first time you have talked. I cannot express enough the importance of this relationship building in our field.”


Mary Springer, the Emergency Management Director for Navajo County, makes the 300 mile drive because “there is no substitute for relationship building prior to an event. Getting to know each other on a personal level gets the connection started so the relationship can grow and mature,” she said. 


The Winter Storm in 2010 hit Navajo County hard. “DEMA was there as well as Apache County, Coconino County, DPS, ADOT, DOC, Tony Scaicca and his Type-2 Incident Management Team,” Springer said. “And we responded to Apache County for the Wallow Fire in 2011. Having those prior relationships really assisted during the times of need.”


The emergency managers will continue to gather to talk and share information and lessons learned with each other, building camaraderie that will assist in Arizona being a stronger, better prepared community.


“We are in a field that is ever changing and no matter how well we manage an event, we could have always done something a little bit better to serve our internal and/or external customer better,” said Puckett. “This forum provides that type of information to me”.