Texas Emergency Management and State Operations Center History Part I
Prior to 1950, disaster relief and recovery in Texas was completely handled by local jurisdictions. But, after a series of major disasters, including the 1947 Texas City explosion, it became apparent that disaster preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery needed a state-level organization to support the efforts of local governments.
In 1951 Texas passed the Texas Civil Protection Act, which created the Division of Defense and Disaster Relief within the Governor’s Office. It also created the State Civil Defense and Disaster Council, composed of directors of state departments involved in disaster response. Beginning in 1954, a State Disaster Control Center was housed at Texas Department of Public Safety Headquarters in Austin and could be activated if needed.
In late 1962 ground was broken for a new state emergency operations center. Because of the heightened tensions of an escalating Cold War, the new operations center was buried underground in a shock absorbing concrete box, able to withstand a “20-megaton nuclear bomb blast three or four miles distant.”
When the new operations center opened in February 1964, it was manned and operated on a 24-hour schedule daily and provided the state with constant readiness for full activation when impending or threatened disaster is evident.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety Biennial Report, the new structure was large enough to accommodate 120 persons with dormitory facilities, kitchen, dining area, infirmary and office space for members of the State Civil Defense Council. The center had its own independent water supply from a well capable of pumping 500 gallons per minute, an independent fuel supply and auxiliary power for utilities. It will also was equipped with a decontamination area at the entrance for exposed persons or equipment entering the center, and had—and still has—blast proof doors at the entrance and emergency exits.
1554 - Texas’ first historical disaster consisted of three Spanish ships laden with silver, gold and trade goods are washed ashore on South Padre Island by a spring storm in the Gulf of Mexico.
1900 - Galveston Hurricane. Deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
1947 - Texas City Disaster. Deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history.
1950 - Congress passes Federal Disaster Relief Program. This program transferred power from Congress to the president to federally declare disasters. It also established the federal government’s role as merely supplementing local and state efforts.
1951 - The state recognized that it needed a permanent organization to provide support for local jurisdictions and coordinate between federal government and local jurisdictions. Texas Civil Protection Act of 1951 (House Bill 784, 52nd Texas Legislature, Regular Session), which created the Division of Defense and Disaster Relief of the Office of the Governor. It also created the State Civil Defense and Disaster Relief Council. This act provided structure for the coordination between different state resources within a prearranged plan.
1957 - The National Warning System is placed into operation.
1958 - The U.S. Weather Bureau uses an “experimental” type of radar known as Doppler radar during the 1958 tornado season.
1962 - Ground is broken in late 1962 for a $630,000 underground state emergency operation center in Austin capable of “withstanding a 20-megaton nuclear bomb blast three or four miles distant.”
1963 - Governor John Connally transfers the Division of Defense and Disaster Relief from the Governor’s Office to the Department of Public Safety.
1964 - The Emergency Operating Center opens. The 12,000 square foot State EOC was carved from limestone and caliche, 26 feet below the new DPS Headquarters building in Austin. The EOC was designed to resist the structural effects of a 20-megaton blast about 5 miles distant. It featured shock-absorbing sprint to protect all breakable fixtures including lights and plumbing, 2,500lb entrance doors constructed of lead encased steel, and a single door weighing 10,000lbs to shut off a rear service entrance.
The EOC contained a kitchen and decontamination facilities, as well as an emergency backup for water, cooling/heating, electricity, lighting and communications. Its focal point was a council room intended to function as the state’s nerve center during disaster operations. EOC communications were equipped with what was then considered state of the art radio and teletype facilities.
1973 - The Disaster Control Center is renamed the State Emergency Operating Center. The Texas Disaster Act (Senate Bill 786, 63rd Texas Legislature, Regular Session) broadens the functions of the Division of Defense and Disaster Relief.