El Nino Preparedness

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released plans to deal with a strong El Nino weather pattern this winter for the FEMA Region 9, which includes Arizona, California and Nevada. Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve will tell us what the plans entails for Arizona.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon -- we'll look at el nino related disaster response plans, and also, tonight, sobering numbers regarding small business ownership in Arizona, and the valley. And we'll hear from a local artist whose work appears on the White House Christmas tree. That's next on Arizona Horizon.

Announcer: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Home sales in the valley were town 10% from September to October as median prices remain flat at 225,000 thousand dollars. This despite the usual trend of increasing sales and prices with the arrival of cooler temperature. Townhouse and condo sales, they were also off but they fell only 1%, and the median price of those units, increased, 5,000 dollars, to 145,000 dollars per sale. The Federal emergency management agency is out with plans to deal with of the strong el nino weather pattern for that region, that includes Arizona, California, Nevada, and we will talk about those plans as the state department of emergency and military affairs deputy director, Wendy Smith-Reeve. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Severe el nino disaster response plans. The things are happening here, huh?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Things are happening here, yes, with the meteorologists are telling us is that we are to anticipate and expect a very wet winter, and spring.

Ted Simons: And this is what to prepare, to recover, to respond, what's going on?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: We want to prepare our communities, and those that are going to respond to the communities into that situation, should flooding occur, and our communities across the state.

Ted Simons: This included California, Nevada and Arizona, the entirety of the state, certain regions?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Right. So, the el nino system coming through, comes through the southern part of the U.S. So, it could be more than just our region, but our region consists of here in the continental U.S., California, Arizona, and Nevada, and then region 9 also has Hawaii and the Pacific, as well.

Ted Simons: So, I understand that the plans utilize a full community approach. What does that mean?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: What we want to do when we are preparing our community is we're preparing the whole community, so starting with our stakeholders and partners, we have, basically, taken a layered approach, in how we reach out to the residents, as well as our response partners, and recovery partners, in our preparation efforts.

Ted Simons: So give me an example here.

Wendy Smith-Reeve: So examples are we hosted a workshop, we had 110 response and recovery partners, and we shared the latest information that we received from the weather service, about the upcoming season, and about the weather to anticipate. We also looked back at previous el nino seasons, and shared with them the information as far as the impacts from those previous seasons.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the impacts from those previous seasons. We have had el nino here, and some serious flooding in Arizona, obviously, some serious problems on the west coast, as well. What did you see from the past? What did you learn?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Well, most recently, our last el nino winter that really had a significant impact was 2009 and 2010. And so, it started as a very you, at the tail end of 2009, went into the beginning of 2010, and we had a strong weather system that came through, lots of rain in the southern, central, and southern areas of the state, and we had more than 40 inches of snow that fell on the white mountain region in three days.

Ted Simons: My goodness. And as far as response back in those days, what did you see and learn?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: What we had was we had a lot of isolated communities, especially in the northern area. So, we had to, actually, via helicopter drop in a lot of food, wood, and coal for fire and wood burning for water resources, as well, so to ensure that we could sustain the individuals that were trapped, basically.

Ted Simons: With that information, with that guide, if you will, the plan now is to what?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Is it ensure that we have reached out sufficiently, to warn and make everyone aware, awareness is a big factor because we want them to take actions in order to be prepared for what they can expect to see in their community.

Ted Simons: Now, I understand a task force is involved here? Is that true?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: We have reached out to our communities, and engaged our partners, so yes, you could consider it a task force.

Ted Simons: It sounds like, and again, it sounds like all three states are on the past force. Is it the idea that if something big hits in California and we can help, there you go, but if we get flooding, and it missed California, they can come and help us?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Absolutely. We do have future aid contacts in place, and state-to-state, as well as within the State of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Is this the first multi-state response plan for el nino?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: I am not aware of something that occurred previously for el nino, but for other events, that might have widespread nexus, we plan together.

Ted Simons: I understand it was a rehearsal of concept or something along these lines.

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Yes, they had an exercise in California, actually, yesterday was a tabletop exercise, to walk through the scenarios that, as far as what we could potentially anticipate, so they take the el nino situation, and they build, and exercise, based upon that, using past events, past el nino events, and help us to walk through what our response efforts and recovery efforts are going to be.

Ted Simons: And as far as Arizona, was Arizona involved in this particular walk-through exercise?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Yes, we had staff there.

Ted Simons: So again, what are we looking out for and expecting here and worried about?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: We're worried about a significant amount of snow. And rain. And flooding. And what that impacts to the community as far as the flooding of homes, evacuations, search and rescue efforts, and insuring that people have enough to sustain should they be isolated. Within their community.

Ted Simons: Are you getting cooperation?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: We are getting great cooperation. And, you know, the biggest thing, too, as far as what we want people to be prepared to do, is they can sign up to receive emergency notifications. Contacting their county emergency manager, and they can sign up for those notification systems that exist within the community. So if there is an event coming, then those emergency managers can push out a notification to the citizens.

Ted Simons: How does the emergency response, the recovery, all there kind of thing, how does that dynamic change when power outages are in the mix?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: It does change significantly when power outages are -- it creates a more complex situation because that also affects your heating systems within the home, and unfortunately, sometimes, we see people try to take action, such as burning things inside their homes that they probably shouldn't. So, setting up shelter locations, for the community to go to in order to receive have a warm area to be, so if things are too cold in their home.

Ted Simons: So last question, if someone is watching right now, they live in an isolated area in the white mountains and in Flagstaff, somewhere out there, the desert, who knows. A bit isolated, do they have a place they can go or should they expect someone else to come and find them?

Wendy Smith-Reeve: What they should do is sign up for those notifications, because through the notification processes, they will be made aware of where they can go to receive the shelter and support within their community.

Ted Simons: And that can be found at --

Wendy Smith-Reeve: That can be found -- they can go to our emergency information network, bin.az.gov is our emergency information network website, and there is more information there. Information or links to contact their county emergency managers, to sign up for the notification systems and also learn about the flood risks in their communities, and find a way to link to an insurance company, to get flood insurance, that's also recommended because there is a 30-day waiting period. So, if your home is flooded, that's not covered under the basic home insurance.

Ted Simons: Once again, ein.az.gov.

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Correct.

Ted Simons: All right. Great information and good to have you.

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thank you.

Wendy Smith-Reeve: Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Deputy Director

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