READY FOR ICE STORMS? YOUR REGIONAL LIAISON OFFICER IS STANDING BY
The most important steps for motorists to take when ice storms threaten are to monitor weather reports, listen to instructions from local officials and make good decisions – even if that means canceling the trip. But if someone is stranded on an open road during an ice storm, local officials in the affected area, and a number of state agencies and voluntary groups are prepared to provide assistance – ranging from high profile rescue vehicles to cots, blankets and shelter.
Following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005, the Texas Division of Emergency Management developed an extensive preparedness program, establishing storage sites with resources to be deployed rapidly in the wake of any and all disasters. The goal was to provide assistance as quickly as possible, rather than waiting for resources to be supplied by FEMA, or to go through a lengthy procurement and delivery process that potentially could slow things down.
The two primary locations for disaster preparedness resources are in Lufkin and San Antonio. But state officials also had ice storms in mind – prepositioning hundreds of cots and blankets along key routes in North and West Texas and the Panhandle area for use in shelters when roads become impassible due to severe winter weather. Texas Division of Emergency Management Regional Liaison Officers (RLOs) also are on standby to advise local officials and assist with response coordination.
RLOs say it’s not just winter weather that sweeps across the plains to impact Texas – it’s traffic. Coordination with local jurisdictions – and with other states, including New Mexico and Oklahoma – and even Colorado, is essential. “If they start closing their roads that has an impact on us,” said RLO David Solis, who works out of the Amarillo area.
RLO Becky Pursur, of the Wichita Falls region, explained that, “what we do as an organization is to contact the major jurisdictions. We make sure they have warming centers and a location to stand up a shelter. We also make sure they receive cots and blankets that are prepositioned along major thoroughfares on up to the Oklahoma border.
“We prepare not just for road closures due to snow and ice, but for power outages,” Pursur said. “Some communities in North Texas receive their power from electrical co-ops in Oklahoma. These power outages can also affect water well function. If the power goes out in Oklahoma, we want to ensure those in Texas can get to a warming center or shelter if the power can’t immediately be turned back on.”
Solis said TDEM begins coordinating with local jurisdictions and state and federal agencies well before an ice storm strikes. Solis said conference calls are held with the Texas Department of Transportation, the National Weather Service and as many local jurisdictions and agencies as possible – including the agricultural community because ice storms have an impact on feedlots as well as highways and utility lines.
“We try to push out information to as many jurisdictions as we can,” Solis said. “We may advise you not to travel because the roads are icy. It all begins with the individual making good choices.”
Pursur said when travelers are stranded on roadways, “we work with the Texas Highway Patrol and Texas Military Forces to rescue these people. Sheppard Air Force Base was also an important partner we worked with that helped tremendously during the December 2009 winter storm. The Sheppard AFB command personnel were able to access high profile vehicles and rescue folks who were stranded on roadways impassable to other rescue groups.”
Pursur said following the 2009 event, she worked with the Nortex Regional Planning Commission (NTRPC), Sheppard AFB and counties in the area to develop mutual aid agreements.
“It is up to local communities to make the decision to open a shelter, working with voluntary agencies,’” Pursur said. “The Texas State Guard also can be deployed to assist with shelter management. We start prepositioning resources in the summer, and work with the voluntary agencies to train volunteers to work in the shelters.”
Solis said: “We do a lot of planning, coordination and networking, and we have great relations with TxDOT and the National Weather Service, the utilities and electric co-ops and the agricultural community. I work with some of the best people in the world in emergency management. They’re like a family.”