Chief Jack Colley, who led the Texas Division of Emergency Management since 2002, died on May 16, following a severe heart attack. During his 12-plus years with DPS, Colley was involved in the response and recovery to an unprecedented series of disasters and emergencies. These included the floods of 2002, the Space Shuttle Columbia crash and Hurricane Claudette in 2003, Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005, the extreme wildfire season of 2006-07, the floods and “rain bombs” of 2007 (which precipitated the largest geographical response in Texas history) and Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Colley coordinated the effort to shelter thousands of Katrina evacuees in 2005 and then led the monumental evacuation of more than 3 million Texas residents as Hurricane Rita threatened the southeast Texas coast only weeks later. In 2008 the Texas Division of Emergency Management responded to six hurricanes and tropical storms within a 90-day period. These storms included Hurricane Dolly, which devastated the Lower Rio Grande Valley on July 23, and Hurricane Ike, which washed over Galveston and the southeast Texas coast on September 13.
With every emergency, Colley and his team of state coordinators, Regional Liaison Officers, planners, Emergency Operations Center staffers and support personnel worked to fine tune and improve the state’s ability to protect lives and property in Texas. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said, “Jack Colley was a great Texan. Because of his leadership, because of you, we are so much better – to the point that every state is looking to Texas as the model for emergency management. ”
Under Colley’s guidance, Texas led the nation in a number of initiatives to make disaster response “quicker, faster, smarter,” which included systems to improve the tracking of special needs evacuees and the processes for safe evacuee re-entry after the storm.
In the wake of Katrina in 2005, as it was learned that many people declined to evacuate if they could not bring their family pets, Colley began efforts to open evacuation and sheltering operations in Texas to include companion animals. “A lot of jokes are made about it but it is simply not a joke. Nobody dies because they can’t bring their pet. This is Texas,” Colley once said.
Over the past year, TDEM has focused on Re-Entry Task Forces to bring back security, restore infrastructure, provide mass care and start recovery within the first 72 hours after a storm. In an effort to speed deployment of resources to states struck by mega-disasters, Colley pushed for an Interstate Emergency Response Support Plan (IERSP) with Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma – the first of its kind in the nation. At the first-ever Texas Hurricane Conference in 2003, Colley summed up the philosophy that guided him during the many catastrophic events he oversaw on behalf of the State of Texas: “In disaster, the most important thing for you to know is that you are not alone.”
Colley served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1997, retiring as a Colonel before joining DPS. He served in several positions of significant responsibility, including Chief Operations Officer for the Second Brigade and Headquarters, lst Cavalry Division and Division Chief for Strategic Planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense. Colley was a graduate of the U. S. Army War College and the Command and General Staff College. Colley earned a bachelor’s degree from East Texas State University in Commerce and a master’s in business from Abilene Christian University.
Chief Jack Colley (right) at Camp Mabry during last year’s National Level Exercise, shown with Colonel Kevin Turnbo and Colonel Connie McNabb.
(Photo courtesty of Texas Military Forces)