If disaster strikes Green Valley, we'll be ready, according to formal plans – which include a comprehensive list of contacts – drafted over the last several months by community leaders and response managers.
In case of storm damage, power outages, flooding, wild fire, train derailments, hazardous materials spillage or other catastrophes, key community contacts can expect a call.
The effort, led by Green Valley Council's Citizen Corps Committee, Green Valley Fire Chief Chuck Wunder and Lt. Jeff Palmer of Pima County Sheriff Department's Green Valley substation, has resulted in a list of established, key contacts “three deep” whom officials can call upon when needed.
“We just want to be ready if there's a disaster,” said Don Weaver, President of GVC's Executive Board.
“It's good we're doing it, and we should've been doing it before.”
The plans involve one point man operating out of the county's Emergency Management Department as spokesman, but accurate, up-to-date information from local officials will help assess needs, assign resources and publicize pertinent details.
Here, “key members” include officials at local water companies, Green Valley Hospital, Green Valley Recreation and other first responders “who can pick up a cell phone and call someone by the first name to discuss issues,” Palmer said.
Following the model of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) set after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the phone tree-style system is designed to link first responders to the county's Emergency Management Department to foster quick, relevant information for the public as developments unfold.
“We're pretty good at managing local incidents,” said Green Valley Fire Chief Chuck Wunder. “This is more for multi-scale disaster.”
The local plan for all to be linked adds to the comfort level, he said. “From a communications standpoint, if a fire is affecting a specific utility, I can get a decision-maker immediately. With more resources to reach more people, it gives more strength. Organizations like GVC and GVR have large email lists (to send alerts). Having all stakeholders at the planning table enables more depth.”
Also involved are the county's Health and Human Services Department's medical reserve corps, the Terrorism Information and Prevention Systems line, local FEMA Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Pima County's Sheriff Auxiliary Volunteers, neighborhood watch programs, and amateur radio associations which can be activated wherever needed.
In addition, Sahuarita police have been in on the meetings and said they're ready to lend a hand whenever requested, said Commander Eddie Lopez. His department stocked organizational supplies with federal Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant funds awarded several years ago, before such resources were trimmed from the national budget. The grants were to help prepare in advance for the unexpected.
A recent role-playing exercise at one of the GV Citizens Corps meetings helped illustrate what would happen in a real event, Palmer said. “Rather than wait we want to get dialogue going to be ahead of the curve.”
In any dry run, communications always surfaces as a key issue, Palmer said. Other officials countywide are developing, or have already established, mutual aid agreements with neighboring entities, counties, state and federal resources to help complete a prepared network.
The plan will be a “living” one with a “plug and play” feature to allow for turnover of contacts, so “if somebody leaves, effort will be made to replace them,” Palmer said.
Information from local sources feeds into a joint info center assigned to release information to the public from a single spokesperson to avoid inaccuracies.
Weaver said the point of the emergency plan isn't to duplicate or displace preparations CERT already has in order, but to see what can be added “to make sure we're prepared.”
Another advantage is that community leaders are getting a better idea of what emergency managers do so their expectations are less foreign to them, Wunder said. When an area must be cordoned off or evacuated, “they expect to hear from Lt. Palmer or Chuck Wunder.”