Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Mutual Aid Works

When it comes to emergencies and disasters, no matter how big or small, emergency managers often find themselves in need of something that they don’t have. When that happens, we can buy what we need or borrow it. All of us have a process to borrow things from our neighbors – mutual aid.

Mutual aid is an arrangement made between governments to assist each other with needed resources. Intrastate mutual aid is assistance provided jurisdiction to jurisdiction within a state; interstate mutual aid is assistance provided state to state; and international mutual aid is assistance provided country to country.

Intrastate mutual aid in Washington is provided through the Washington Intrastate Mutual Aid System (WAMAS), established in RCW 38.56. Members of the System may request assistance and resources from other members for response, mitigation, or recovery activities related to an emergency; or to participate in drills or exercises. Assistance can consist of any resource (equipment or personnel) provided to, or requested by, another member jurisdiction.  Taking advantage of WAMAS may be the easiest way to get your neighboring jurisdiction to help you if you don’t already have a mutual aid agreement in place.

At the state level, we have the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), the nation’s state-to-state mutual aid system.  This system has been ratified by Congress and is law in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EMAC offers assistance during governor-declared states of emergency through a web-based system that allows states to coordinate their requests from or offers of assistance to other compact members.

In the Northwest, we also have the Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Arrangement (PNEMA), established by Congress under Public Law 105-381 as an international arrangement between the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington; the province of British Columbia; and Yukon Territory. The participating parties can utilize the arrangement without the requirement of a governor’s or a premier’s proclamation. PNEMA exists for members to help each other with comprehensive and coordinated civil emergency preparedness, emergency response and recovery measures for natural and technological emergencies or disasters.

TESTING ONE FORM OF MUTUAL AIDA recent Fire Exercise of the Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Agreement (PNEMA) brought together a number of partners, both actually and virtually. From
left to right, Paul Perz of the Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office; and Craig Ginn, Kristin Ramos and
Mark Douglas of EMD’s Logistics Section focus on a status board (off camera) during the exercise. The state
of Oregon Office of Emergency Management and Oregon’s State Fire Marshal also participated from their
respective locations. Both states zeroed in on testing state-specific procedures for requesting and deploying
fire assets between Washington and Oregon using the PNEMA process. Projected exercise outcomes were to
validate state procedures, identify areas of improvement, draft an After Action Report and provide the fire
service with an overview of each state’s established procedures and mobilization processes. The exercise was
a success as many items for improvement were found.

The help we receive from other states, provinces or territories should be transparent to you if you’re a local emergency manager. Hopefully you don’t have a preference where help is coming from, just that it comes in a timely manner.  EMD staff will do the majority of the paper work in this process and work with you to identify what you need, and where you want it, and when. We monitor the national mutual aid system daily and if there is an opportunity to provide help, we will work with state agency or jurisdictional representatives to identify the right resources.

Important note! Local jurisdictions that want to provide resources for deployment can greatly accelerate the process by completing an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) in advance. This makes your resources “agents of the state” and allows us to deploy them to meet requests for assistance. Information on completing IGAs can be obtained through EMD Logistics staff. If you don’t have an IGA ready and waiting to go, let us help you complete one today!

As always, additional help is available from EMD and more information is available on the State Logistics Resources for Emergency Managers web page:

Robert Ezelle
Director, Washington State Emergency Management