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Preparing for disaster takes work, resources - The Galveston County Daily News : Columns

November 26, 2014

Preparing for disaster takes work, resources

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Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 12:00 am

The city of and Galveston County have a history of resilience. Despite our mercurial weather and politics, we somehow manage to pull together when we need to.

Many of us here have ancestors that rebuilt the city after The 1900 Storm and erected the physical embodiment of that resilience and willingness to take on seemingly insurmountable tasks together when needed.

Only a few years back, we once again proved those qualities are still just as strong when we worked together to rebuild after Hurricane Ike. We couldn’t have gotten as far as we have so quickly without governmental help, but much of that recovery happened by neighbors helping neighbors.

The wounds left by Hurricane Ike are diminishing, although we still have a long way to go before the physical and psychological damage is healed. Enough time, however, has passed that we’re already losing some of the institutional memory our decision-makers from that time had.

How do we, as a community, keep the myriad lessons learned despite changes in city leadership and as people in key roles from that time cycle out?

In a very forward-thinking move, many of our city and county leaders attended an emergency management course at the FEMA training center in Emmetsburg, Md., last week.

It says a lot about our current leadership that it realized the importance of taking busy, important people away from their duties for an entire week with the purpose of preparing them for how to deal with all stages of a catastrophic event, from emergency response all the way through debris management, restoring infrastructure and financial and psychological recovery.

The course was intense and even included three “tabletop” exercises that lasted several hours where we had to work together to address different problems.

A central theme that was repeatedly stressed was the importance of relationships and communication in getting a jump on both the response and recovery phase. It helped that we were locked into a compound in the middle of a blizzard!

What little time was spent out of class was spent together continuing course discussions.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a group of Beach Patrol supervisors were taking their own course in disaster response. Kara Harrison, Josh Hale, Mary Stewart and Kris Pompa went through a grueling swift water/urban flooding course in San Marcos.

They spent four long days and one night in wetsuits learning swift-water rescue techniques, search and recovery, and how to respond during a flood.

This meets a goal we’ve been working on for some time on the Beach Patrol. We now have every full-time member certified as a Swift Water Rescue Technician, which will prove invaluable to our community when we have our next flooding incident.

We don’t know when, but we all know there will be another big one. The challenge is to keep the skills and institutional knowledge ready for that eventuality.

Being prepared takes work, commitment, resources and for the community buy in, but it’s essential.