Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas Coast as a category 4 storm on Aug. 25, 2017. It dropped unprecedented rain amounts, causing catastrophic flooding in Houston and many coastal communities. It was the second most damaging storm in recorded history, topped only by Hurricane Katrina. The storm reportedly killed more than 50 people, damaged more than 200,000 homes and left more than 1 million people displaced. According to the Federal Emergency Management Association(FEMA), there were 880,000 FEMA applications across 41 counties. Gov. Greg Abbott said it could end up costing $150 billion and will take years to recover fully.
But there is a silver lining. As with many disasters, it brought the people of Texas together. Volunteers from across the state (and around the country) pitched in to help. In Texas, Mayors and County Judges have responsibility for emergency preparedness and response within their local jurisdictions. That’s why it’s so important that citizens and potential volunteers are educated about emergency management. Relief efforts are so much more effective when their point of contact during a disaster is through their elected officials and those working in the Emergency Operations Centers. That ensures your efforts are those needed most at the time. Often, people are quick to want to help and don’t discuss their intentions and prepare themselves to meet the specific needs of an affected area. We always want to make sure our relief efforts do the most good. Sometimes, we need to slow down and get a plan. Be proactive, rather than reactive.
Local government was at the ground level helping their counterparts in hard-hit areas. Here are just a few of the examples of how Texas takes care if its own and how county government has been at the heart of the recovery efforts.
Commissioner Mark Halfmann and his brother lend a hand unloading donated hay to Chambers County residents who need to feed their livestock.
Glasscock County Judge Creates #Adoptacounty, Adopts 2 Counties
Glasscock County Judge Kim Halfmann can be credited with starting a social media movement that has spread to real life action. Soon after Harvey left the coast, leaving so many without shelter, food and basic supplies, she saw an opportunity to help her counterparts in need. Her idea was to adopt a county and encourage others to do the same.
“Glasscock County Volunteer Fire Department members were the first to approach me about making a trip to the affected area to provide some type of relief and it grew from there,” she said. “I quickly explained how every county judge across the state is in charge of emergency management and with those points of contact we could do more good than if we just showed up with items or assistance that weren’t needed or planned for.”
They opened an account at the bank the next day and got in touch with Chambers County Clerk Heather Hawthorne to see what was most needed.
“At that time, we had calls coming in with donations of food, clothing, water, feed, etc. Heather got me in touch with who we needed to contact regarding donating round bales of hay and two trucks were fueled and loaded; delivery was made within four days of the initial call,” Halfmann said.
She kept in daily contact with Hawthorne who informed her that their neighboring county, Jefferson, was in greater need of food for volunteers and first responders. So, naturally, they went ahead and adopted Jefferson County, too.
“Two teams were willing to travel nine hours, first Nederland then on to Bevil Oaks, to cook for up to 1,000 people, three times per day,” Halfmannn said. Altogether, the teams were there a total of seven days.
The efforts and donations are continuing. “We are well aware the needs of those displaced or affected will continue for months. We are prepared to continue our efforts to meet their needs as they begin to clean up and rebuild,” she said.
But Glasscock County can’t help everyone, so Halfmann decided to share stories and encourage others to adopt a county, to do whatever they could, would be most effective via social media. ”I shared #adoptacounty on my personal Instagram page and on my personal Facebook page,” she said. “To my knowledge, there isn’t a single source to go for information and/or needs. I have maintained contact with elected officials in those counties we are helping to keep apprised of their specific needs.
“I want to encourage other counties to consider #adoptacounty. We call it that, but no county equipment or manpower was utilized. No mutual aid agreements or paperwork exchanged hands. This was about people helping people,” said Halfmann.
Halfmann suggests that counties reach out to county judges in affected areas to offer help and find out what each specific community needs. Affected counties will continue to need donations and volunteers in the years ahead.
Texas District & County Attorneys Association Donates to Help Harvey Victims
Prosecutors from across Texas are stepping forward to help counterparts in Harris County and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast rebuild their lives in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
The Texas District & County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) donated $1,000 per person to 40 prosecutors, investigators and administrative staff from eight counties: Harris, Aransas, Victoria, Orange, Jefferson, Montgomery, Refugio and Fort Bend.
“We know this is not a king’s ransom to anyone, but it is love from prosecutors around the country, “said Robert Kepple, executive director of the TDCAA.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg thanked Kepple and those all over who contributed to the Harvey relief effort.
“These are public servants helping public servants, and we are grateful,” Ogg said. “People kept the court system running even as their own homes faced flooding,” Ogg said. “Their quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts protected the fundamentals of our system during one of the largest natural disasters ever.”
In the wake of Harvey’s devastation, the association created a hurricane relief fund and asked members to donate.
Recipients from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office received their checks during a luncheon at a county administration building in downtown Houston. Among those who received a check was Ruth Cortez, an HCDAO administrative assistant, who saw her roof cave in during Harvey. “This is a blessing,” she said when told she would receive the assistance. “You have me in tears right now.”
Those who received the funds had to apply and meet certain requirements, including having had an uninsured or unreimbursed loss of $5,000 or more as a direct result of Harvey.
Hidalgo County Precinct 4 trucks and equipment. Some of the Hidalgo County staff heading to Port Aransas.
Hidalgo County crews sent to assist with Hurricane Harvey relief Convoy includes more than 60 vehicles from Hidalgo County and McAllen
More than 60 vehicles and trucks headed north on Aug. 30, 2017 to Nueces County from Hidalgo County to assist in the Hurricane Harvey relief effort in Port Aransas to support local first responders on Aug. 30, 2017. The convoy included 18 Hidalgo County employees and 62 City of McAllen Public Works, Parks Department and PUB employees.
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said the convoy was another example of how emergency management crews from throughout the county come together to get the job done — whether it’s a coordinated response to a local emergency, or in assisting in affected areas outside of Hidalgo County.
“Hidalgo County stands united with the people and our partners in the areas affected by this devastating storm,” said County Judge Ramon Garcia, who also serves as the County’s Emergency Management Director. “We continue to respond to the needs of our neighbors to the northeast and stand ready to assist as needed.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios was among those who traveled to Port Aransas. In addition to staff, Palacios deployed two debris removal trucks and four dump trucks that collected branches, trees and other debris from roads and highways.
The Health and Human Services Department supported the public works strike force by sending its shower trailer and three employees, including Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez, who provided administrative assistance to local health officials.
The team assisted the communities of Fulton, Aransas Pass and Ingleside. They joined the Critical Incident Management team, who were deployed to Fort Bend on Aug. 27. That team, worked 18-hour shifts creating traffic and safety plans, and helped document the relief effort tasks undertaken by all responding agencies in the state.
Gulf Coast Counties Visited by TAC Risk Management Staff
TAC Risk Management Services staff hit the road following Hurricane Harvey to check on several Gulf Coast counties affected by the storm, including Bee, Chambers, Calhoun, Hardin, Navarro, Newton, Orange, Refugio and Tyler counties.
Staff delivered safety kits and non-perishable food, drinks and cleaning supplies, and met with county staff and officials to discuss storm damage to county buildings.
Resources for Counties Affected by Hurricane Harvey
TAC has rounded up links to information about grants and other resources available for counties affected by Hurricane Harvey at www.county.org/hurricanharvey . The page includes links to resources from TAC, the Texas Hurricane Center, Texas Department of Public Safety, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Texas Department of Emergency Management.
TAC will update the page with additional information as it becomes available. Please check the page for updates.