California state and federal agencies got a firsthand look at what tribes in Indian country would be facing during a flood, wildfire or other hazard at the Tribal Emergency Management Summit April 19 and 20 in Central California’s Tule River Indian Reservation and at the Eagle Mountain Casino.
The agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Army National Guard, California Highway Patrol and U.S. Forest Service, convened with tribes and rancherias from up and down the state in the event of a foreseeable disaster. The key issue at the summit was communication — who do you contact when something happens and who should you know before a disaster strikes.
“I walked away with a better understanding and I know, face-to-face who my contacts are in the event of an evacuation,” said Dirk Charley, tribal council member at large for the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians. Charley said the summit helped tribal leaders and planning members set the stage for future meetings with government agencies to continue the dialog. “You have to sustain the momentum with this type of activity,” he said.
Summit dialog revealed the need for more than just this annual event, which is the second such event and sponsored by the tribes. Public health entities were a part of the summit and shared at breakout sessions what would happen during a pandemic. Out of these discussions came the desire to hold a mock pandemic drill, which will be scheduled in the near future.
“I’m excited about the mock scenario so we can come together and prepare for anything we may encounter,” said Elizabeth Kipp, director of the Big Sandy Rancheria. “It resulted in the group saying ‘Let’s do a drill,’ so we’re planning a drill, a mock of being able to get out into Indian Country any types of medicines or vaccines and the steps to make that happen.”
Charley said one important point resonated at the summit — know your community. “Know who’s in your area; know how long it takes to drive from there to there; where might the evacuation centers be? Know the nearest Forest Service unit hotshot crew.”
He said tribal leaders need to visit public safety and emergency management agencies, and those agencies, in turn, should visit the tribes and know who and what they are dealing with. “We have one way in and one way out,” he said. “Don’t you think emergency responders need to know that? Don’t wait for a disaster.”
Charley said having detailed maps of the area is key, and also knowing the acronyms used by other agencies is important. “Next time we have to have a list of acronyms that are common to emergency services, because I picked up on a lot of speakers using acronyms. I understood them or thought I understood them.”
Katrina Poitras, disaster program manager for the local Red Cross, which helped to facilitate the event, said what was unique about the summit was that it was held on tribal lands.
“It gave the partners an opportunity to come out and see the reservation or the rancheria and really see the culture and some of the challenges of the tribes, the one way out, the winding canyons and the threats of wildfires and floods and other things.”