Navajo Nation Silver Jackets Team Takes Action in Birdsprings, Arizona

South Pacific Division
Published Dec. 11, 2023
Navajo Nation Department of Transportation works to repair washed out roads and culverts in April 2023.

Navajo Nation Department of Transportation works to repair washed out roads and culverts in April 2023.

Article by Chris Stanton and Arianna Kitchens 

Led by the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources (NN DWR) and coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), a Silver Jackets team, dubbed the Navajo Nation Silver Jackets (NN SJ), formed in March 2023 as a result of significant flooding to the Navajo Nation’s Birdsprings Community. Through this inaugural interagency emergency response effort, the team displayed extraordinary coordination, collaboration, and community engagement to deliver expedient flood relief and enhance disaster preparedness with the wider Navajo Nation community and its partners.

Years ago, a bridge was built over the Little Colorado River, but the design and construction did not allow for adequate passage of sediment and debris beneath the bridge. As a result, the bridge had become impacted over time and caused significant flooding to the surrounding Birdsprings community. 

On March 28, 2023, after discussions with Birdsprings Chapter representatives, the NN SJ team hosted an interagency meeting attended by the Navajo Nation’s Emergency Management Division (EM), Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Health, and Environmental Protection Agency; as well as several federal and state agencies including  FEMA, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), NRCS, USGS, Coconino County, Navajo County, AZ Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, AZ DOT, and the City of Winslow. During this meeting, the NN SJ team and partnering agencies were able to establish a coordinated response effort to help ease the flooding and reduce increased flood risk to the community.

The Navajo Nation’s Emergency Management Division, Navajo County EM, Coconino County EM, and USACE EM collaborated through various levels for the initial flood response between March 13-17, 2023. The team worked to evacuate residents, find and fund temporary housing, install HESCSO barriers and sandbags, and provide supplies for residents who stayed behind to care for livestock as well as elders and medically sensitive family members. The efforts of this multi-agency EM staff led to educational opportunities for community members to build an understanding of the ways in which flood-fighting materials are dispersed as well as evacuation procedures. By distilling these valuable knowledge and skills, the interagency team worked to empower residents to take an active role in defending their homes and properties against future flooding incidents while protecting lives and ensuring utmost safety of the community at large.

The Navajo Nation DOT, BIA, and county agencies continued interagency efforts into Spring and early Summer 2023 through their hard work repairing washed-out roads rendered impassable by the March flood. Their commitment to restoring essential transportation infrastructure demonstrates the dedication of local agencies to safeguarding the well-being of residents. By restoring access and connectivity, the interagency team has helped to ensure that the Birdsprings community and others can maintain vital connections and regain a sense of normalcy after the devastating effects of flooding this past spring.

The issue of sediment and debris accumulation beneath the bridge is a substantial component of the ongoing flood mitigation efforts. The most recent action completed by BIA and county agencies involved removal of sediment and debris under the impacted bridge. This vital intervention has already begun to alleviate flooding concerns and offers a glimpse of the positive impact that collaboration between agencies can yield.

The NN SJ team is already setting its sights on the future, with a robust agenda aimed at further enhancing flood preparedness and community resilience across Navajo Nation. A key upcoming initiative is the development of several interagency workshops aimed at communicating flood risk awareness directly to Navajo communities. The interagency team holds quarterly coordination and collaboration meetings to bring together agencies working throughout the Navajo Nation to share their respective agency’s efforts and identify ways to further bolster partnerships between the agencies.

In addition, USACE has submitted a proposal to prepare an Emergency Action Plan for Birdsprings. This will be developed with the interagency team and will be fortified through a tabletop exercise simulating a flood response scenario in the community. This hands-on approach will equip Navajo Nation and the community with the tools and insights needed to navigate emergencies with confidence.

Ongoing interagency efforts by the NN SJ team serve as an outstanding example of effective collaboration and proactive community engagement. Through the combined efforts of the team’s many partners, the Birdsprings community is on a path toward greater resilience and emergency preparedness.

Navajo Nation Silver Jackets - Partners

  • Navajo Nation Dept. of Water Resources
  • Navajo Nation Div. of Emergency Management
  • Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency
  • Navajo Nation Dept. of Transportation
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • NOAA National Weather Service
  • USDA Natural Conservation Resources Service
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Sacramento Districts
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Geologic Survey

Release no. 23-005