Editor’s note: The following is from Robert DesRosier of Blackfeet Nation, a tribal nation located in the northwest portion of Montana.
Posted by: Robert DesRosier, Blackfeet Nation Director of Emergency Services
All reservations have their own challenges when it comes to emergency preparedness. As the Director of Emergency Services for Blackfeet Nation, I can attest to the trifecta of challenges we face: (1) unique geographic location along Montana’s northwest border, (2) enormous breadth of territory – we span over one million acres, including 60 miles of international border, and (3) a cash-strapped budget.
Our remote location in a state as large as Montana and our status as a reservation demands we be equipped to independently respond to the full spectrum of hazards. Recognizing this fact, the combined force of our own initiatives and invaluable support from the federal government has allowed us to produce a more cohesive, capable response to support the reservation.
Here is some of the work we have accomplished:
More Effective Training
The most significant improvement in our preparedness is how we've trained our community for self-preservation topics: 5,000 of the 8,000 reservation’s residents are trained; this is up 3,500 who were trained ten years ago. And the Blackfeet Community College now offers an associate’s degree in homeland security and we emphasize the importance of the National Incident Management System and Incident Command Structure courses that are available.
Better, More Capable Equipment
FEMA-sponsored grants have gone a long way in supplementing desperately needed resources. Through the 2010 Tribal Homeland Security Grant program, the reservation was provided with state of the art equipment, such as thermal and night vision, outstanding 4-wheel all-terrain-vehicles that are ideal for patrolling our international borders, and enhanced interoperable communications for all our response communities.
Emphasizing the "Team Approach"
Our improved communications capabilities extend beyond advanced technology though. We have placed a strong emphasis on increasing interaction with fellow tribes and capitalizing on the myriad resources offered by FEMA, both of which have been met with great success.
Last year we kicked off the Tribal Nations Homeland Security Conference, with Tribes from the Northwest and as far away as Virginia, and we have led the effort in organizing the Tribal Nations Working Group, pulling together all seven Tribal Nations in Montana to start cohesively addressing plan readiness and mitigation measures. It’s been very positive, just based on the trust level we’ve established by community building.
The networking opportunities and information sharing we participate in at FEMA workshops has been instrumental in assisting our resource-limited reservation in optimizing our strategy and operations, and Blackfeet Nation is better prepared to support our citizens in the event of an emergency.