FARMINGTON — Few chapters on the Navajo Nation have a plan in place to deal with disaster, said Jimson Joe, program manager with the Nation's Department of Emergency Management.

"Chapters are not prepared to know what to do in an emergency situation," he said. "There is really no effective, unified effort."

From fires and floods to crop failure and bio-terrorism, the possible threats are manifold, he said. Joe presented his department's take on the necessity of emergency management planning to the Nation Economic Development Committee last week.

Over the next five years, he'd like to see all chapters develop an emergency management team and create a plan defining what each agency should do in the event of an emergency. At the end of the project, he'd like each chapter to have a manual in both English and Navajo spelling out how they will respond.

"We're preparing one way of responding and applying that to every situation," Joe said.

Fourteen of the Nation's 110 chapters now have emergency plans on the books. Joe encouraged the council delegates at the presentation to fill out survey forms and also take them back to their constituents.

"Right now, because of the language difference and the economic level differences in our communities, really the education of the general public is all different," he said. "This helps get us on the same page.



San Juan County, which provides aid to Navajo emergency agencies and counts some Navajo fire departments within the county, recently updated its own emergency plan, said Don Cooper, San Juan County Emergency manager.

"It's always good for people to plan and get together and talk about what they're doing," he said.

But while an emergency plan is "always good," he wondered if every chapter needed its own.

"I don't know how each chapter is going to write a plan," he said, because some communities are so small. "I would think they'd have an overall plan and each chapter had an application."

For chapters, developing a plan can have its own set of kinks. Council Delegate Katherine Benally represents the Dennehotso Chapter, which does have a plan. When the emergency management team tried to respond to a fertilizer truck on fire, however, they were turned away by law enforcement.

"How are we supposed to develop (emergency management) after sending away a team?" she asked Joe.

He promised to look into it.

"Sometimes safety becomes the overwhelming issue," he said.

Lindsay Whitehurst: