MESSAGE FROM THE CHIEF
As we move into hurricane season, I would like to challenge all of you to consider several major ways to streamline coordination of local and state response. I want to hear what you think about these concepts and to collect additional suggestions you may have to offer.
First, I am proposing that all of us consider the benefits of using the same operational periods during incident response. That means we would all operate on the same “game clock.” Yes, I understand that we have different time zones in our state – and that “H-Hour” is usually different across the geography of our coastline. But right now local Emergency Operation Centers, Disaster Districts, the State Operations Center (SOC) and state agencies choose their own operational periods. Shifts change at different times for different entities.
Operating on the same clock would provide the advantages of working with the same people on the same shift. That would mean much more consistency in information sharing and decision making. It would mean that less falls through the cracks as the shifts change. Everyone would brief and de-brief at the same time.
The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC) and the Texas WebEOC Interoperability Project (TWIRP) Team have developed the SOC Clock for us. Feel free to check it out and send us your suggestions for improvements.
Next, we have been discussing changes to the way TDEM schedules conference calls. My vision is to hold regional conference calls during each operational period that are dedicated to receiving information from the National Weather Service. Then we all would take a short break and validate our plans and needs through our mayors and judges.
The goal is to give local officials the time they need to digest information, plan and determine their needs. After this, TDEM will schedule the statewide operational response conference calls. I believe splitting the conference calls will allow us to drill down on the requirements and provide the resources that are really needed. Having calls in each operational period will also help ensure each shift is sharing the same information across the state. Again, I look forward to your thoughts on this.
Third, I want to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding WHO issues evacuation orders and WHEN different groups are told to begin the evacuation process. It is extremely important that all of you become familiar with the law and that you work with the emergency management directors before the decision must be made.
The Texas Government Code Chapter 418 Emergency Management, Sec. 418.108 clearly states who may issue evacuation orders. If there is a lack of consensus among mayors and judges on calling for an evacuation, the county judge is the person who can make the final determination to order an evacuation. However, if a mayor wants to evacuate, the county judge cannot say ‘no.’
It also is critical that the sequence of evacuations be coordinated among all local officials in coastal and inland communities threatened by the storm. We need to ensure that Texans following evacuation orders from one jurisdiction do not wind up in traffic jams due to lack of communication with a neighboring jurisdiction.
In addition, I want you to think about coordination in sheltering. When we stand up point-to-point to shelters, I want to make sure that officials in the evacuating communities share key information with the host communities. We need to know the numbers of evacuees and we need to have the appropriate resources in place when they arrive. We can’t do that if we aren’t talking to each other.
Finally, we all need to become familiar with the guidance on accommodating evacuees with functional and access needs. I would encourage you to download the Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) Toolkit. It is designed to give you basic information you need about interacting with Texans with functional and access needs during a disaster, as well as to identify leaders from the disability community who can assist you. You also may visit the Functional Needs Support Services Integration Committee Web page for more information. This page provides you the information on laws and guidelines as you stand up shelters.
Changing the way we have been doing business isn’t always easy. I ask you to send us your comments, questions and concerns via email to email@example.com and copy your Regional Liaison Officer. Don’t be shy about submitting complaints, either. This is a two-way street and I welcome all comments. When we work together and keep the goal in sight, we can achieve anything.
Chief W. Nim Kidd, CEM®
Questions or comments regarding the State of Texas Functional Needs Support Services Tool Kit can be sent to TDEM.FNSS@dps.texas.gov