2019 Legislative Conference Review: Revamping Disaster Response

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey

By Shiloh Perry, Communications Specialist

  • Share this:

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in August 2017. Known as the second most impactful storm in American history, it destroyed much of the southeast Texas Gulf Coast. The Category 4 hurricane displaced communities in more than 49 counties, and Texans are still picking up the pieces. 

As rebuilding efforts continue, the 2019 TAC Legislative Conference in Austin brought together state government officials and lawmakers to discuss current efforts providing assistance to those affected and improve future disaster response and recovery processes. The panel discussion included Texas General Land Office (GLO) Commissioner George P. Bush, Texas Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Texas Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria).

Bush began the panel by updating the audience on the GLO’s recovery efforts. “If you ask any lawyer here in town they will say that county government is an extension of the state. Well, based on my Harvey experience, I am here to tell you that we are an extension of you,” he said. “You truly drove the engine when it came to Hurricane Harvey response.” 

Bush outlined the steps his office is taking to prepare for and manage future storms. The GLO identified improvements from a study conducted by Texas A&M University’s Scowcroft Institute based on feedback from county and other government officials about the storm’s disaster response implementation. 

Morrison discussed the intention of recently enacted disaster-related legislation. A report developed by the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas directed legislative content. “There were 44 recommendations in the ‘Eye of the Storm’ report and 43 of those ended up being in legislation and Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) rules enacted by policy,” Morrison said. “We covered each and every one of those, and we used this to draft legislation in the House.” The panelists discussed increased planning and streamlined disaster management practices to encourage efficient government collaboration and quick recovery.  

Preparation is Key
Advanced planning is vital to disaster response, from immediate dispatch protocols to long-term recovery grant awards. The GLO recognizes that improved response only comes with preparation. 

Bush said that his office prioritizes flood coordination and planning. He explained that new legislation gives the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) statutory empowerment to divert water quickly to prepare for a storm. TWDB will coordinate with appropriate authorities in advance of a flooding event to enhance communication. The GLO is working to develop contracts in advance to help lock in help where it is needed most. State agencies will have the authority to improve and penalize the premature removal of developed contracts. 

Effectiveness Comes with Simplification 
Simplifying complexities of disaster response and recovery leads to more efficient disaster management practices. Led by authors Sen. Kolkhorst and Rep. Morrison, state lawmakers passed legislation that helps do just that by providing guidelines for improved emergency response training for local officials. 

Morrison said that particular bills influenced by county officals’ testimony better explain which statutes must be suspended during emergencies, and organize volunteers and contract workers. Kolkhorst added that specifics for debris removal contracts and standards are spelled out. Legislation authored by Morrison in the House, and sponsored by Kolkhorst in the Senate helped move TDEM to the Texas A&M University System. “The TDEM transfer to Texas A&M, which was effective Sept. 1, I think is a great move for us,” said Kolkhorst, “to be able to utilize all those resources and being able to coordinate all those efforts.”