New Emergency Plan To Cover All Bases


In so many ways 9-11 changed everything, including Payson's emergency operations plan.

Police Chief Gordy Gartner and Fire Chief Marty deMasi are updating and enlarging the evacuation operations plan the town currently operates under, in large part to meet new government guidelines.


Payson Police Commander Don Engler points at one of the arrows indicating the routes for individual neighborhoods and subdivisions to follow if an evacuation ever became necessary.

"It involves changing our current plan to meet the guidelines of the federal government's National Incident Management System (NIMS)," deMasi said. "There's some other updates that need to be done as well."

But the scope of the plan is also being enlarged. The current plan, called the evacuation operations plan, was developed exclusively for wildfire evacuations.

"Evacuation is part of (the new plan), and it includes evacuation in town and people coming from another place and landing here," deMasi said. "But besides fires, there are floods, wind events, hazardous materials, civil disturbances -- there's all kinds of components (in the plan under development)."

Besides the plan itself, a key element in any emergency operations plan is a fast response, and the police and fire departments are ready to go, even before the political elements -- most important of which is an emergency proclamation -- are in place.

"We get with the town manager and elected officials and say, ‘You really need to declare an emergency here,'" deMasi said. "It's a very simple process: they rubber stamp a document that's already been produced, and that gets sent to the county. (County officials) basically do the same thing and it gets sent to the state and that allows aid to officially move without hindrance."

But emergency units may not have time to wait for the politicians.

"If an evacuation is required, it's going to be happening," deMasi said. "If we have to call for fire resources, either through the forest service or state mutual aid, that's all going to be happening.

"So all that stuff is going to be going on, but in the background this political process is also going on because that's got to happen so somebody can pay for it all."

The first thing that happens is the activation of an emergency operations center that will coordinate the entire effort. The emphasis is on a reasoned and orderly process. A map has been created, for example, depicting evacuation routes out of town, including how each neighborhood or subdivision should proceed.

"We have an evacuation list that is communitywide," said Lorna Hansen, Hospice patient care administrator. "Anybody can put their name on it. We kind of handle it, but we work hand-in-hand in coordination with (the police). The transportation is dependent on what is available at the time. I think, for instance, the town has an arrangement to use the school buses, the Mazatzal Casino bus and the senior center bus."

While a mass evacuation has never been necessary, emergency shelters have been established on several occasions for evacuees from other areas. The most notable was the shelter set up at Rim Country Middle School in 2001 for Rodeo-Chediski Fire evacuees.

"At the time we thought we had a relationship with the Red Cross, but it wasn't as good as we thought and things didn't work out as well," Gartner said. "We ran it for four days ourselves with a lot of help from the religious community, our police volunteers, local restaurants and stores.

"Now we've got a great (local) Red Cross (chapter), and we'll open it with them or we'll support them in the opening of it."

Formed six months after the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, the local Red Cross unit has conducted mock drills to be ready for an emergency. And last summer during the Willow Fire, a shelter was ready to go but was never needed.

An emergency shelter set up in July for evacuees from the Edge Complex Fire went much smoother than could have been expected. The local Red Cross served its first evacuees -- initially at a shelter quickly set up at Julia Randall Elementary School, and then at the Payson High School Wilson Dome.

The move to PHS was necessitated by an expected onslaught of evacuees that never materialized.

"We were set up at JRE for 75, and we probably could have handled another 25 to 30," Lew Levenson, head of the local unit, said. "All the predictions and alarms we had been going through for the last several days had us anticipating all these people," Levenson said.

Police and fire officials dispelled one myth that seems widespread in the Rim Country -- that hordes of Valley residents will ascend to the Rim Country in the event of a disaster involving the Palo Verde nuclear power plant.

"Not too long after 9-11, I called officials in Phoenix and asked about that," Gartner said. "They said, ‘The prevailing winds come out of the Southwest, so if something happens to Palo Verde, moving people from Phoenix to Payson, which is northeast of Palo Verde, is not going to make a whole lot of sense. We'd probably be going in other directions.'"

Besides, Palo Verde was built to withstand much more than the average nuclear power plant.

"There's not as big a concern in the upper levels of the state because of the structure of it," Engler said. "I have some information on it, and the predominant thought is that it's pretty secure for most practical purposes."

That's not to say the Rim Country might not one day be inundated by refugees from the Valley.

"I suppose it could happen that a decent portion of the East Valley might head this way," deMasi said.

The new plan will accommodate that eventuality.

"Common sense tells us we would be one of the evacuation routes for the East Valley, so we've done some work," Engler said. "We've attended some meetings in Globe and talked about it on a countywide level."

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