NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Emergency Management and disaster preparedness was the theme for the first half of the Tribal Utility Summit (TUS). Response and recovery are obvious steps that need to be taken when a natural disaster occurs. Proper planning to ensure critical services continue to operate during a disaster should be a paramount concern for Tribes during the times Mother Nature is not kicking up a storm.
Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Emergency Management Division manager Jason Dobranz and True North Emergency Management Coordinator of Emergency Management Programs Shane Stovall told TUS attendees the most important parts of dealing with disaster is knowing your resources, knowing how to access them, and maintain a good action plan.
Dobranz described the preparations and action taken during Hurricane Sandy last fall. The Hurricane, which is not a typical storm for the northeastern United States, did the most damage to New Jersey and the New York Islands, which is the Southampton home of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.
Dobranz coordinated with the Shinnecock, the state of New York, members of the Tribal Assistance Coordination Group (TAC-G), which is comprised of federal agencies, non-governmental and inter-Tribal agencies, and fellow Tribes. He reinforced the idea of knowing your resources and how to access them. This past fall, helping the Shinnecock Indian Nation one resource was critical.
“If you don’t know the Red Cross, get to know them. They were able to get three hot meals to people in need. They (Red Cross) will be your number one resource,” Dobranz told the TUS attendees.
Before the storm ever hits, a Tribe or community should know its resources and how they will manage them in the preparation, response, and recovery phases of a giant storm like Hurricane Sandy, winter storm “NEMO,” or in the event of a man-made disaster like a fuel spill. Shane Stovall says, “It is critical for Tribes to have disaster pre-management plans. There are so many nuances that emergency management has to deal with like debris removal. Having a plan will also help Tribes properly access assistance from FEMA and other agencies.” Stovall said plans should include an outline of roles and responsibilities, positional checklists, information you may need to complete FEMA 325 forms, locations for managing operations, and a guide for public information.
The continuation of public services like functioning water treatment and waste water treatment plans is important to maintain public health during a storm. The term live and learn has special meaning to Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation assistant director of Wastewater David Drobiak. In March 2010, prolonged rain caused serious flooding and threatened wastewater operations.
Drobiak had to coordinate with emergency management and the Connecticut National Guard. This was a “live and learn” experience that he shares with other Tribal operators on how to make the utility plants more resistant to threats of natural disaster, identify resources to help in the response phase, and how to recover. Drobiak echoed the basic principle of USET noting there is strength in unity when we need resources to survive. “One key to all of this is never being afraid to ask for help. There are so many people with great resources to help you out and we should always reach out to one another,” Drobiak says.
Nashville Area Office of Indian Health Service (IHS) also made an introduction of its new Emergency Management Specialist Rocky Jones who is in charge of emergency management coordination for IHS in the USET Region.