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Long-term planning group for COVID-19 no longer in place in Arizona

Posted at 10:07 PM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-29 01:07:48-04

An ‘informal’ long-term planning group that was put in place for COVID-19 is no longer in place in Arizona, according to state officials.

Arizona’s former director of Emergency Management, Wendy Smith-Reeve, now an ABC15 analyst says she worked to put together a long-term planning group to help map out a state plan moving forward. “This helps you be very proactive, instead of constantly and always being reactive to a situation.”

Smith-Reeve has over two decades of experience in crisis management, but resigned earlier this year with the belief that her role was duplicative.

We asked her what happened with the group after she resigned, “that was disbanded very quickly,” Smith-Reeve said.

Officials with DEMA say there was an informal team assigned to long term planning in March, but in an email they said, “as the pandemic evolved, the DEMA team members were absorbed into the larger response effort, reassigned due to more immediate needs or have left the agency.”

When asked if there is a new group in place to focus on long term planning, officials said, “they continue to address short and long term planning with internal and external partners.” However, they were not aware if they are specifically labeled as a group.

A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Health Services said in an email they were unaware of a committee being formed.

ABC15 has asked Governor Doug Ducey what has been the roadmap, or plans that are guiding his decisions throughout the pandemic, but he has never gave a straightforward answer, saying public health, and the subject matter experts guide him.

Two weeks ago, the governor was asked what is the plan to stay on the downward trajectory. In a news conference Ducey said the strategy is to follow public health guidelines, “it’s very simple things: wearing a mask, physically distancing, washing your hands, covering your cough, these are the things that we’ll continue to do, and like I said, we’ll stay vigilant.”

Although the governor’s office did not respond with a committee or task force focused on long-term planning for COVID-19, a spokesperson said in an email that it is something that’s a priority. “We continue to work with DEMA on many aspects of the COVID-19 response, including areas of coordination between state, local and federal partners, surging resources, logistical support and more.”

They also say that ADHS is the lead, and they have incident action plans, emergency action plans, and pandemic response plans.

Smith-Reeve giving us insight on crisis management, saying she would follow the ‘Arizona State Emergency Response and Recovery Plan’ as a guide for that long-term planning group. The plan includes a detailed structure including how to coordinate subject matter experts from different agencies and sectors. The structure also includes six key categories that will help focus on key areas that include: community planning & capacity building, economic, health & social services, housing, infrastructure systems, and natural & cultural resources.

Each of these areas would help form solutions to issues that arise as well. For example, Smith-Reeve said, with issues with DES, they would have been able to find ways to move staff from other agencies to help fill the gaps with staffing.

“What is critical about emergency management is we understand all partners and what they do and how they work together,” said Smith-Reeve, “so knowing who to call and who can provide the solution to fill the gap really gets you to a proactive place much faster.