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City of Peoria Press Release

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Peoria’s Emergency Response Team is Put to the Test

City, community responders excel during intense disaster exercise


Peoria, Ariz. (June 19, 2007) – A power outage across four square miles during record summer heat forces thousands to seek shelter. Wildfires destroy half-a-dozen homes and threaten hundreds more. A serious auto accident on Loop 101 results in an explosion and release of hazardous chemicals. A public health emergency – including four deaths – takes place at a Peoria assisted living facility.

Each of those crises alone would be a challenge to handle – combine them all and that is what Peoria’s emergency response team faced during an exercise conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The exercise was part of the Integrated Emergency Management Course, a combination of classroom discussion with leaders in the field of disaster response, and a crisis response and recovery exercise that took place over three days. Peoria was selected from hundreds of communities who applied to participate.

52 members of the city’s emergency response team and 19 representatives from other agencies who would respond to a crisis in Peoria attended the weeklong course, held at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The travel, meals, lodging and training costs were all paid for by FEMA.

The integrated nature of the exercise required the participation of a diverse mix of professions and agencies. Representatives from the Maricopa County Public Health Department, local hospitals (Arrowhead, Banner Thunderbird and Boswell), Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project, American Red Cross, Peoria Unified School District and Luke Air Force Base worked side by side with city staff to respond to the crisis and move the city toward recovery.

“Like any successful emergency response, this exercise was a community effort,” said City Manager Terry Ellis. “The fact that so many organizations committed the staff for this course is unusual, and it was highly effective. We forged some new working relationships and Peoria’s emergency preparedness is better for it.”

The increasingly complex scenario, along with ringing telephones, crackling radios and regular television “news updates,”  brought the pressure and pace of crisis response to life for the course participants.

“This was a very realistic exercise that tested and stretched our emergency operations plans and procedures,” said Susan Thorpe, Peoria’s deputy city manager for public safety and administrative services.

Deputy Fire Chief Larry Rooney is the city’s emergency manager who, with the support of Fire Chief Bob McKibben, pushed for the city to participate in this course. They felt that it was time to get an impartial look at the city’s emergency response system.

“We have put a lot of time and resources into making sure our emergency response team is well prepared,” said Rooney. “This course was an important outside critique that let us know we are continuing in the right direction.”

“Overall, we learned that we have very good plans in place and ready to go in any emergency,” added Thorpe. “More importantly, we also identified several ways we can improve.”

According to Phil Moore, who developed and oversaw the exercise for FEMA, Peoria’s emergency response teams excelled in a very challenging environment.

“Peoria is certainly in the top handful of cities that I have ever taught,” said Moore. “Their response was nearly flawless.”

Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett, who participated along with Vice Mayor Vicki Hunt, was impressed with the knowledge and cooperation demonstrated by the team.

“We have true professionals working for us who know and understand their jobs and roles in emergency situations," he said. "I was very proud of the fine performance of our employees and folks from other agencies in the face of the series of emergencies FEMA threw at us. In each case we met the test and, in many cases, exceeded expectations.”

About a dozen communities each year go through the Integrated Emergency Management Course. More information is available at http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IEMC/.


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