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District partners with Tohono O’odham Nation to promote explosives safety

South Pacific Division
Published March 25, 2019
Cover of the adapted 3Rs of Explosives Safety coloring book that was developed in coordination with the Tohono O'odham Nation Environmental Protection Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Cover of the adapted 3Rs of Explosives Safety coloring book that was developed in coordination with the Tohono O'odham Nation Environmental Protection Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District partnered with the Environmental Protection Office of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a federally-recognized tribe, in November 2018 to plan age-appropriate 3Rs (Recognize, Retreat, Report) of Explosives Safety awareness information for schools on the nation located within the Sonoran Desert in south central Arizona. The effort was part of the Formerly Used Defense Sites Interim Risk Management initiative, which informs government officials, property owners and community members about potential hazards at sites where Department of Defense is not expected to investigate or conduct removal or remediation activities for an extended period of time.

EPO requested the awareness presentations for the schools since there are FUDS munitions response sites on the Tohono O’odham Nation. The nation’s involvement in planning the safety awareness resulted in elements of the nation’s culture being incorporated into the presentations, the community accepting the need for the 3Rs safety information, and the Corps identifying ways to assist the nation in providing outreach to its community.

When Robert Sixkiller, a compliance officer with EPO, learned that World War II-era FUDS with potential explosives hazards were located on the nation, he asked the Corps’ Los Angeles District if safety information existed to help raise awareness within the community of the potential hazards. Los Angeles District FUDS Project Manager Lloyd Godard discussed options with Sixkiller and determined DOD Environment, Safety and Occupational Health Network and Information Exchange 3Rs of Explosives Safety school presentations could be provided to the nation’s schools. The materials given to the students were also designed to be shared with their families, furthering the reach of the safety information.

The collaboration came out of meeting with Arizona FUDS stakeholders, Godard said.

“The nation’s EPO compliance officer was looking for educational material,” Godard said. “That was the start of a very valuable partnership.”

The Los Angeles District and EPO developed a preparation process that encouraged input from the nation. EPO coordinated meetings with the schools so the Los Angeles District could become familiar with relevant cultural information, school location and presentation logistics. Conversations with the schools provided the necessary information to construct a thorough, yet flexible plan to meet each school’s needs.

In addition, each school was asked to preview the presentation materials and provide perspective about how the information could be delivered in a manner suitable to each school. EPO also coordinated a meeting with the curator of the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum, which provided the Los Angeles District with information about the nation’s culture and history that were used, with the nation’s permission, to augment standard presentation materials.

“The addition of Tohono O’odham artwork and words to the coloring book makes them exceptionally more valuable when distributing to interested parties,” Sixkiller said. “My gratitude extends to the Department of Defense and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ openness and willingness to allow the modification of the materials.”

“It helped the children connect with the material,” Godard said. “The use of symbols, characters or mascots they are familiar with or look up to helps bring the presentation closer to them as a community, especially when dealing with young children.”

The Los Angeles District and the nation presented safety awareness information to all schools on the nation Jan. 10-17. The effort reached approximately 1,480 students and 50 teachers and spurred introductions to resource officers from the nation’s police department and school newspaper and radio club teachers.

The team also gave 3Rs of Explosives Safety coloring books to 350 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. EPO and school staff encouraged all students to take the 3Rs materials home and discuss the safety practices with their parents or guardians, Sixkiller said.

“When all parties can communicate and work together like our team did, all things are possible,” he said.

Sixkiller praised the proactive collaboration between the Corps and the nation for providing essential safety awareness information to children and their families.

“I hope all districts work as well as the Los Angeles District did with us to make for a successful safety outreach for all the children,” Sixkiller said.

Additionally, the Los Angeles District provided EPO with 3Rs materials to distribute at the nation’s annual rodeo and fair Feb. 1-3 in Sells, Arizona.