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JBER, ALASKA – The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHS&EM), in partnership with Kawerak Inc., hosted a rural resiliency workshop for the Bering Straits and Norton Sound region. Representatives from 16 communities met in Nome for three days. This workshop provided an opportunity for community leaders to work with DHS&EM and state and federal partner agencies to enhance disaster preparedness throughout the region.
“Getting everyone together for the workshop was a great way to build strong relationships with Alaskans in this remote area,” said DHS&EM Director Mike Sutton. “We serve all Alaskans, so it’s important to get to talk to them, and to know how we can make our division work better for them.”
The resiliency team with DHS&EM developed three main focus areas — community needs, agency capabilities, and small community emergency response plans — to shape the workshop to be more valuable to the local residents and the issues they face. Several talks touched on the impacts of increased marine vessel traffic in the arctic, the associated risks, and how agencies are preparing themselves and the communities for those challenges.
The discussions facilitated by agency representatives allowed emergency managers in the region to voice the challenges they deal with.
“We used to invite leaders from rural communities to Anchorage to meet with us, but meeting closer to their homes helps open up dialogue,” Sutton said.
Presentations by emergency planning and management agencies explained their resources and capabilities. Community members learned the tools and assistance available to them to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters. “I was impressed with the attendance and participation by representatives from multiple State and other offices, willing to share information about their services and resources,” said Josie Garnie, Vice President of the Teller Traditional Council.
A section of the workshop was devoted to helping community leaders develop small community emergency response plans (SCERP). The SCERP is a customized flipbook with essential, community-specific information used to assist the community during a disaster. The plan is designed to be easy to follow and understand for those with or without emergency management experience.
The workshop is part of an ongoing effort in DHS&EM to enhance communication and relationships with communities in rural Alaska. The next rural resiliency workshop is planned to focus on residents in Alaska’s interior.