AGENCY PARTNER: TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
The mission of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department is to manage and conserve natural and cultural resources of Texas, including more than 93 state parks and historic areas – as well as to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the people of Texas, and the state’s visitors. However, few people realize that the agency’s game wardens also serve their state as first responders during natural disasters.
What does the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department do for the state during disasters?
When a flood, hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or some other form of natural disaster strikes Texas, game wardens often are among the first state officers on the scene. Texas’ 530-plus, highly trained and well-equipped game wardens are fully commissioned peace officers. All of them have access to boats and all have been trained in water rescue techniques. They like to say they are Texas’ “off-the-pavement” law enforcement arm.
What are some recent disasters in which game wardens have assisted as first responders?
Wardens were actively involved helping people in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2006 and Ike in Texas. They did everything from rescuing people stranded by high water to herding stray cattle to get them off a public roadway. In the days following the Sept. 13, 2008 landfall of Ike on Galveston Island, some 320 game wardens spent 24,000 hours in search and rescue work.
What assets does Texas Parks & Wildlife bring to the table?
When a hurricane threatens, game wardens can be staged in a safe location near the area where landfall is predicted. Game wardens may get only one hour’s notice before they are deployed. TPWD has a fleet of air boats, flat bottom boats, shallow draft boats that can be used in search and rescue operations, plus high profile four-by-four trucks and all terrain vehicles, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The agency also has a mobile command station with radio communications and satellite.
Have Texas game wardens ever been deployed outside Texas?
In 2005, for the first time in history, Texas sent 111 game wardens out of state to participate in search and rescue operations. Following Hurricane Katrina, game wardens were deployed to assist survivors in New Orleans. These Texans rescued some 5,000 people during that unprecedented operation. In addition, 75 game wardens were prepared to fly to Haiti to assist after that nation was devastated by an earthquake in January 2010, but at the last minute, disaster response coordinators canceled the request.
What other roles does the agency serve during disasters?
The agency has the discretion to allow evacuees who have left an evacuation area to shelter in state parks. However this is on a discretionary basis, and depends on the magnitude of the incident.