Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2012 Vol. 59 No. 4


Bastrop County Wildfires
Looking like a war zone, the charred remains of a home and automobile bear witness to the devastation wreaked by the 2011 Bastrop County wildfires.

Hurricanes. Floods. Wildfires. Whether natural or manmade, our state gets its share of Texas-sized disasters. To handle the infrastructure damage they cause, you need a Texas-sized response – the Texas Public Works Response Team (PWRT).

The PWRT is a state asset that supports local jurisdictions in their response to a catastrophic incident by providing public works technical assistance and equipment to facilitate quick recovery of a community’s critical infrastructure. The Texas PWRT comprises 180 members formed into 50 response teams from 55 jurisdictions. The assets behind all those numbers represent thousands of people and resources ready to help when disaster strikes.

The operationally-ready response teams are recruited from local jurisdictions and coordinate with other state agencies within Texas. The response teams are composed of public works disciplines which function under the Texas Statewide Mutual Aid System and are deployed by the State Operations Center (SOC) under the direction of the Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).

This state-controlled asset provides an “all-hazards” response, a concept applicable in any state. Whether responding to hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, forest fires, ice storms or tornadoes, the PWRT model works well.

Developed at the request of TDEM by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) in the aftermath of 2005’s devastating Gulf Coast Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the PWRT was initially activated in 2008. From 2008 to 2010, the seasoned veterans of the PWRT deployed in response to four storms: Dolly, Edouard, Gustav and Ike, and to flooding in the Rio Grande Valley after Hurricane Alex. In 2011, the PWRT tackled the public works infrastructure damage in the aftermath of the devastating wildfires that ravaged the state, particularly in the Bastrop County area.

Ken Olson, veteran PWRT member, explained how the team approached the aftermath of the wildfire: "Based on the assessment of the damage left by the fire in the Tahitian Village area, providing water/wastewater service to the remaining homes presented a significant challenge. A 'cut and cap' method was recommended for the homes that were destroyed so service could be provided to the remaining homes. This method would enable the operator to provide expedient service to homes as they are repaired or rebuilt."

PWRT member James Fischer, a Water and Wastewater Associate Training Specialist with TEEX, also responded to the Bastrop wildfires. “This was a very devastating fire, and the damage to the water/wastewater infrastructure was as random as the fire, where it would destroy three houses and then leave one totally untouched,” Fischer recalled.

"Responding to this incident was enlightening to me for all the behind-the-scenes activities that go on for such a massive and coordinated effort. I salute all the responders helping out their fellow citizens," he added.

To learn more about the PWRT, contact Tony Alotto (phone: 800-723-3811, e-mail: itsi@teexmail.tamu.edu) or visit: teex.org/pwrt.

-- Guy Benson is a TEEX Advertising Coordinator

Front Page Photo: In the aftermath of 2008’s Hurricane Ike, this intersection showcases a public works disaster in miniature: debris, road damage, downed traffic signs and power lines, and exposed gas, sewer, and water lines.

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