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Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2017 Vol. 64 No. 8

2017 Hurricane Charlie State Exercise
Tests Houston-Galveston-Sabine Lake Region

The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) developed and sponsored a series of exercises to test key elements of the state's hurricane preparedness program. This year's full-scale exercise, "Hurricane Charlie," was named in remembrance of the Galveston's Emergency Manager, Charlie Victor Kelly Sr., and conducted June 1-9, 2017. It focused on testing ground transportation along Texas' interstate highways – mainly in DPS Region 2 – from Beaumont to Galveston.

In the scenario, a major Category 4 Hurricane was predicted to make landfall in the Houston-Galveston-Sabine Lake region. Over 1,100 participants from dozens of emergency management partner agencies and community volunteers took part in the exercise over the 9-day period.

The state provides contracted commercial buses to assist during large-scale evacuations and did so in support of the exercise. These were inspected by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commercial Vehicle Enforcement unit, which set up operations at the Ford Park and Tully Stadium staging areas. The TDEM Critical Infrastructure Systems (CIS) Unit outfitted the buses with GPS tracking equipment.

Embarkation hubs were set up across the region to accommodate volunteer evacuees and their pets and service animals, who were banded and entered into the Emergency Tracking Network (ETN) during the evacuation and shelter process.

Volunteers were bused from coastal areas to inland reception centers and point-to-point shelters where they were again scanned into the ETN system. Local jurisdictions provided food, refreshments and safe shelter for the night. The next morning, evacuees were returned to their point of origin for repopulation.

During the main phase of the exercise, the State Operations Center relocated to an alternate location to evaluate its ability to operate from a remote site. This undertaking was especially successful in fostering collaboration and yielded many lessons learned.

Several jurisdictions participated in a "Bring Your Own Exercise" or BYOE. In a BYOE, the jurisdiction plays off the main exercise scenario, discussion or operations based exercise; however. the exercise play is under the control of the jurisdiction and its local support system.

The exercise was supported and evaluated by FEMA's National Exercise Division. This support includes the writing of the After Action Report and Improvement Plan. An early analysis of the exercises identified that communication between the National Weather Service, state agencies and local emergency managers was effective in providing high-level information, which in turn gave local jurisdiction the knowledge to make important evacuation decisions. The coordination between local, state and federal entities proved valuable in providing needed resources. While training responders is an ongoing process, a rigorous training program for the ETN system and for WebEOC is needed to ensure that future generations of responders are able to effectively evacuate people and their animals at a moment's notice. Several jurisdictions also utilized the opportunity to test the information provided through the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR). The STEAR program is a free registry that provides local emergency planners and emergency responders with additional information on the needs within their community.

Participants found this real-to-life exercise to be a valuable tool for future planning efforts both at the local and state level.

Sabine Gumm
Texas Division of Emergency Management

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