Tribal emergency preparedness remains a relatively new endeavor for which both tribal leaders and non-tribal bordering communities require education, says tribal preparedness veteran Monte Fronk.
Fronk has been working to provide that education through the circulation of a video he spearheaded and created along with Randolph Mantooth—EMS poster-person and Seminole Indian from Oklahoma
Mantooth narrated the 30-minute video entitled “Strength and Resiliency Tribal Emergency Preparedness for Tribal Leaders and Program Directors—Your Roles and Responsibilities” that was filmed and produced by native-owned Eagle Clan productions along with a team of tribal staff from FEMA Region V and funded by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
Fronk, a member of the Region V team, had envisioned this video project for more than five years, but locating a funding source was the starting point to having it come to fruition in 2012. The School of Public Health completed the final editing and sent the video to all 566 federally recognized tribes, and it is now available on EMSWorld.com, YouTube, FEMA's website and the university web site.
While the video was originally developed for tribal leaders, another positive “surprise” was how many non-tribal emergency response agencies from all levels of government benefited from watching and using the video for training, according to Fronk.
History of Tribal Preparedness
The 566 federally recognized tribes were given autonomy to manage and respond to incidents on their tribal lands in 2000 thanks to an executive order to FEMA by former President Clinton, according to Fronk. FEMA established initial grant funding for tribes to apply for and create their own emergency preparedness programs. This is why the concept is still relatively new. Different reservations, villages, Rancherias, pueblos and communities are at different stages in their preparedness programs, and surrounding non-tribal jurisdictions have varying levels of knowledge of tribal government and emergency operations.
"With this positive change for our tribal communities we now want to ensure that our tribal leaders have a basic understanding of what they need to have in place to meet FEMA requirements," Fronk states.
Unlike a city mayor or county commissioner, tribal elected officials are tireless advocates for their communities and spend a lot time traveling across the country meeting with state elected officials, members of Congress, heads of federal agencies and other leaders.
“We kept hearing a similar story from tribal emergency managers: ‘A lot of us could not get the time to sit with our officers to explain the roles they have in the area of tribal emergency preparedness,’” Fronk says. He was also hearing, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a visual tool on what their roles and duties are during emergency situations?”
That was where Fronk decided to come in and make it his mission to develop such a tool. He had met Randolph Mantooth at two previous EMS events and received a lot of helpful wisdom and advice from him on how to proceed, Fronk says. Mantooth agreed to narrate the video if funding was found for the project.
“I think what the video did, was it fulfilled an unmet need in Indian Country,” he says. “It’s a simple visual tool for people to watch and say, ‘Do we have these things in place?’”
Reasons for Tribal Preparedness
The reasons include recognition of sovereignty and sensitivity to cultural differences within the many different reservations, villages, Rancherias, pueblos, and communities throughout the United States.
“We’re a nation within a nation,” Fronk says. “It benefits any tribal nation when we can respond to our own so we can meet our own tribal needs. We all have unique cultural aspects that we can only respond to ourselves.”
Response agencies next to tribal lands should learn what—if any—role they should be prepared to play if outside assistance is needed. Fronk notes this can be complicated, as many tribal communities are known as “checker boarded,” with land bases that can cross multiple county and even state lines.?. Additionally, there are two types of tribal lands, Fronk notes: closed reservations that are under federal jurisdiction only, and public law 280 reservations that are classified as “open” under state jurisdiction.
Fronk also notes that under the Sandy Improvement Act which included changes to the Stafford Act, tribal governments were given the authority to make their own “disaster declarations” right to the federal executive branch, or to continue the option to be included in a state declaration where their tribal lands reside.
The biggest difference for tribal emergency response is in the incident command structure, Fronk says. When FEMA gave tribes the ability to handle their own emergency response capabilities, they designated the method of managing the incident on tribal lands by the creation of a TERC, or Tribal Emergency Response Committee. A TERC is a unified command system made up of members of a tribal government that have the authority to assign their staff and resources to an incident scene. This is unlike the NIMS system of CFLOP. “It's a unique thing,” Fronk says, and it's important for off-reservation response agencies to understand. “When a non-native agency comes to assist it has to come in and operate under our command system,” he says. A lack of understanding can lead to a lack of collaboration and less effective outcome, he notes.
A recent example of a disaster affecting a tribal government was when hurricane Sandy struck the Shinnecock Nation and outside agencies came to the assistance of the tribal government. “They were in a situation of being cut off and having to work with multiple agencies,” Fronk says.
Since the release of the video it has been used for training by Tribal fire, EMS, Emergency Management and law enforcement leaders, as well as non-tribal agencies on the local, county, regional, state and federal levels. It has also been recognized by the Minnesota Association of Emergency Managers and the International Association of Emergency Managers, and was shown at the Red Nation Film Festival.
Fronk says he continues to get requests to discuss tribal preparedness and that the outreach effort continues.
For more on the video see Fronk's article at nvfc.org and Randolph Mantooth's blog at route51.com.
Monte Fronk is a 24-year tribal emergency response veteran and is a firefighter/EMT and certified emergency manager with MN Homeland Security and Emergency Management and International Association of Emergency Managers. He is also a member of the CISM team of the central Minnesota EMS region.