Emergency Flood Preparation In Oak Creek Canyon

June 27, 2014

(Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service)
View of Oak Creek Canyon

The Coconino County Emergency Response Team is doing everything it can to prepare for imminent flash floods in Oak Creek Canyon.

Director Robert Rowley said their current “codeRED” system is inadequate because of almost non-existent cell phone service and the number of visitors to the canyon.

Yesterday they tested an alternative. Nine Sirens spread from up-town Sedona to the switchbacks.

One siren, at the Sedona District Five fire station did not go off.

"It is why we conducted the test to make sure everything was functioning the way it should," Rowley said. "And Sedona Fire District got right on that and by yesterday afternoon they had identified the problem, fixed it and tested it to make sure it was functioning. So now we’re confident that everything is working as well as we can make it work.”

Every assessment emergency response has received indicates that it is not a question of if the floods will occur, but when.

“Once the water and debris starts flowing, there is very little we can do until it stops," Rowley said. "It’s a lot like a tornado. You can’t stop the tornado, all you can do is warn people of it as best you can and then respond once it's finished and do what you can to help at that point."

The emergency response team is also negotiating with Verizon on a way to temporarily boost cell phone service in the area, working with the Arizona Department of Transportation to keep updated roadside signs and trying to install temporary low-power radio stations that will constantly update flash flood conditions.

“From the time the weather service sees that there might be a problem to the time water might show up at your location, we are talking minutes," Rowley said.

Because of the fire damage, flash flood dangers could continue in this area for three to five years.