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SRPMIC Shelter and Information Center Drill

Staff and Community members start walking in as they play the roles of different individuals who were traumatized by the mock flood.

If a natural disaster occurs in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, emergency officials want to be prepared and have a plan in place to respond appropriately.

A three-hour drill exercise, conducted on August 22 at the Lehi Community Building, will help in the effort.

The drill was designed to evaluate the disaster response plans, policies and procedures that activate and monitor shelters and information centers for the Community. The simulated incident for the drill was a flooding-related disaster.

The director of the exercise was Capt. J.R. Rocha of the Salt River Fire Department, who is also manager of the SRPMIC Shelter Project. About 40 participants included several Community members, staff and others from visiting communities. They played roles, posing as staff in shelter operations or as evacuees seeking shelter or information after the disaster. Participants acting as evacuees received an in-depth script reflecting several possible scenarios, such as being a 65-year-old elder who needs help, a 6-year-old child who is lost, or an irate family member looking to find his family members but who has a restraining order against him.

American Red Cross volunteers were also present to help out and supervise the different situations.

Participants were put into different categories that were identified by the color of their badges. For instance, actors who played civilians looking for help wore one color and those representing staff of a government department wore another color.

Recreation Maintenance and Public Works staff on site were called in to help; in the gym, they quickly placed large tarps over the floor of the basketball court and removed sleeping cots from boxes to be placed throughout the gym.

Other staff from SRPMIC tribal government set up information tables for Senior Services, Family Reunification, Functional, Special Needs and other issues.

While participants were prepping the shelter and information center, one of the actors, a little girl who lost her family in the “flood,” walked in, hysterical. Staff at the registration table did their best to calm her and get as much information as they could about who she was and who her parents were.

Soon after, other actors started coming in, some injured, some overemotional and some angry. Staff worked at a fast pace to accommodate them. Police officers were on hand to provide protection, talk to individuals and/or escort them off the premises.

After the drill was complete, staff started to take down the shelter’s beds, tables and signage and headed back to the briefing area for a “hot wash,” where exercise controllers, evaluators and players met to discuss the exercise. The discussion primarily focused on player expectations, exercise outcomes and issues for improvement.

One of the strengths identified was how the police officers were able to assist and show presence.

“I liked the interaction with two resources working with one client,” said Pam Garcia, who represented the Senior Services Department. Others said the players’ problem-solving skills were really good under pressure.

“Everyone’s strengths were good and everyone remained calm,” said Crystal Banuelos, who was acting as shelter liaison.

Participants identified areas that could be improved, such as having more mental health representatives available and how there should be a special area in the shelter especially for children, where they can feel safe. Other ideas were having a guiding path on the floor and more people at the registration area, like greeters, to direct members of the public coming into the shelter.

Participating in the drill were staff from SRPMIC departments such as Health and Human Services, Social Services, Senior Services, Community Relations, Public Works, the Salt River Police Department and Salt River Fire Department, and the Recreation Department maintenance staff. Representatives from outside agencies included American Red Cross volunteers and people from the Department of Emergency Affairs and Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, who provided food for the drill and also parked their food trailer and shower trailer on site.

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