Texas Emergency Management Briefs, Tips and Links
HARRIS COUNTY WORKS TO BUILD UP VOLUNTEER RESCUE FORCE
By Mihir Zaveri, November 24, 2017, Houston Chronicle
With emergency responders across the Houston area overwhelmed by the scope of Hurricane Harvey's devastation, the 911 system overburdened and outside help stymied by high water, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett went on television on Aug. 27 to make a public plea.
Wherever you are, if you have a boat, Emmett said, get out in the neighborhood and help evacuate people trapped by floodwaters.
Now, local officials are working up a plan that would better coordinate response - ahead of time - among volunteers during disasters such as Harvey.
Emmett and other county officials want to create a database of residents across the county who own boats, vehicles that can travel in high water, and other rescue equipment to efficiently target volunteer response, which studies show are critical lifelines during disasters.
WHAT CENTRAL TEXAS HAS LEARNED SINCE DEVASTATING 2011 WILDFIRE SEASON
By Taylor Goldenstein, November 24, 2017, Austin American-Statesman
Looking on as wildfires razed hundreds of thousands of acres in Northern California last month, Central Texas fire officials, no strangers to such disasters, said they remain ready for the next big, inevitable blaze.
After all, Texas had its own wake-up call in 2011 after the Bastrop Complex Fire burned more than 34,000 acres and destroyed 1,660 homes, one of the most damaging wildfires that the state had ever seen.
"Texas has drought conditions just like California does — we have strong winds that come in here just like California does," said Kate Johnston, Bastrop County's special projects administrator. "You get winds and low humidity and dry conditions that have been here a long time, you're looking at increased wildfire risk."
While there's no sure way to prevent fires, which are part of the natural ecosystem, there are ways to reduce the risks and to prepare.
One major method is fuel mitigation, which is the removal of flammable substances to reduce the effects of a potential fire, such as by thinning trees or removing underbrush, Johnston said. Reducing the amount of dead vegetation and other ignitable materials on the forest floor and canopy lessens a fire's intensity.
HARVEY-LIKE 'BIBLICAL' FLOODING WILL BECOME MORE COMMON IN TEXAS BECAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE, STUDY SAYS
By Pam Wright, November 14, 2017, The Weather Channel
Texas faces a six fold risk of hurricane flooding similar to that experienced during Hurricane Harvey in the next 25 years, a new study says, a risk that will again triple by the turn of the century thanks to global warming.
Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor and hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel found that extreme weather events with 20 inches or more of rain could become far more common over Houston and other parts of Texas in the decades to come.
According to Emanuel, the chances of "biblical" amounts of rain totaling 20 inches or more falling over Texas from 1981 to 2000 were only 1 in 100 or less. Today, the probability is 6 in 100 and will likely grow to 18 in 100 by 2081.
AFTER ARKEMA PLANS, SAFETY BOARD URGES INDUSTRY TO RETHINK EMERGENCY PLANS
By Matt Dempsey, November 15, 2017, Houston Chronicle
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, concerned about the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, is warning the chemical industry to rethink its emergency plans in light of the Arkema fires in Crosby.
Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 6 feet of water on the Arkema plant. Floodwaters caused the site to lose the ability to keep volatile organic peroxides cool, leading to massive fires over multiple days.
Arkema asserts in documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the level of flooding from Harvey could not have been predicted. The Crosby location had not received more than 20 inches of flooding in its history, according to the company.
At a news conference Wednesday, safety board Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland warned companies to not use the past to predict the impact of future storms.
"No one has a crystal ball, but we don't want people to be lulled into a false sense that the plan they may have done two or three years ago is still going to be adequate," Sutherland said.
MAPPING 211 CALLS DURING, AFTER HURRICANE HARVEY
By Leah Binkovitz, November 9, 2017, Government Technology
The 211 helpline operated 24-7 by the United Way of Greater Houston connects residents with a range of social services, from food assistance to help with rent and utility bills. During and after Harvey, calls to 211 shot up with people across the Houston area looking for help.
Between August 28 and October 10, 136,000 residents called 211, according to the United Way of Greater Houston. A total of 51,596 unique callers requested service referrals due to the effects of the storm.
The Kinder Institute's Houston Community Data Connections created an interactive map utilizing the 211 call data to capture the extent and type of need in the weeks following the storm. The team recently published an interactive map on the same topic using valid individual assistance applications submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Call volume for Harvey-related requests to the 211 helpline went from 21,233 in the first week down to 1,801 a little over a month and a half after the storm.
Overall, most calls have requested referrals or information for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) and other food assistance, temporary financial aid, shelter and disaster unemployment assistance. Needs changed week-to-week, reflecting the process of recovery.
HOW SAN ANTONIO AREA IS PREPARING BEFORE THE NEXT HARVEY HITS
By Chris Shadrock, November 15, 2017, KSAT News
SAN ANTONIO - They are dates that evoke panic and fear in longtime South Texans: June 1997. October 1998. July 2002.
The memories of whole homes floating down rivers, Highway 281 under water and dozens of lives lost in raging floodwaters remain -- even though few physical scars from the storms do.
August 2017 was almost added to the list. Had Hurricane Harvey -- which roared ashore on the Gulf Coast of Texas on Aug. 26 -- shifted west by just 50 miles, it would have inundated the Alamo City.
In the ensuing months, city planners in San Antonio have had to reckon with that near-miss -- and the questions it raised: Is the Alamo City ready for the kind of disastrous flooding that struck Houston? Could it happen here? What is being done? What more can we do?
Ultimately, as longtime residents and planners will say, it is a matter of when -- and not if -- another catastrophic flood hits.
Should a storm like Harvey hit our area, preliminary model results show that the Olmos Basin would receive enough water to fill the Alamodome 41 times, which equates to more than 23.3 billion gallons of water, officials with the San Antonio River Authority said.