THE MAGAZINE

State of Readiness

By Robert Elliott

In January 2005, unusually heavy winter rainstorms melted a snowpack in the mountains of Utah and unleashed a series of floods that gushed across the border into Arizona, just north of the Grand Canyon. The Beaver Dam Wash and the northeast town of Littlefield bore the brunt of the high water that swept away 16 homes and knocked out the approaches to a major bridge. President George W. Bush declared Arizona’s Mohave County and others a disaster zone, and $3.7 million in federal assistance was allocated to the state to clean up the mess.

The best that could be said about the flood was that its timing was fortuitous. Only weeks before, federal, state, and local personnel had participated in a homeland security exercise aimed at assessing how the multiple groups of first responders could cope with a regional catastrophe centered on flooding. An emergency operations center (EOC) unit had been set up, complete with workstations featuring telephones, computers, and resource manuals.

Staffers had learned from that exercise, and many of the resources were now readily accessible to deal with the current real-life crisis. “We were able to function very well,” says Byron Steward, emergency manager for Mohave County. “It was a very good example of how an exercise could prepare you for the real event.”

Repercussions from Arizona’s November 2004 dry run are still being felt today as the state heads into its next series of preparedness measures, including TOPOFF (Top Officials), a national-level homeland security exercise that will take place in Phoenix and two other locales in 2007. Resulting modifications to Arizona’s homeland security preparedness, led by director Frank Navarette, have centered on communications, logistics, interaction with Mexican authorities, intelligence feeds and analysis, and the scope of the practice runs.

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