Hurricane Harvey roared ashore in 2017 with winds of 130 miles per hour, dropping more than 34 trillion gallons of water on Texas. In its wake, the storm left 200 million cubic yards of debris spread over hundreds of square miles. More than 210,700 homes were damaged. At the height of Harvey, more than 39,000 people were housed in shelters throughout the state. The massive displacement of people and the intense and widespread damage to private property and public infrastructure made Harvey a truly unprecedented event.
Two years later, Texas’s Gulf Coast communities are still recovering. We can’t stop the next storm from happening, but with the lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey, we can be better prepared to respond.
Protecting County Personnel, Property, Equipment and Resources
Creating a Catastrophe Preparedness & Response Plan (CPR) will help prevent the loss of life and property. Following a well-defined CPR will help the county respond as promptly and efficiently as possible when catastrophe strikes.
Here are some important things to consider when creating a Catastrophe Preparedness & Response Plan:
- Determine how you will respond to an emergency when county offices are damaged. Your courthouse, annex buildings and other structures may become uninhabitable during and after a catastrophe, affecting your ability to respond to the emergency and resume normal business operations. Your CPR should describe how the county will continue to function under these circumstances. Your plan should include detailed instructions for maintaining crucial communications among county employees and elected officials involved in emergency response.
- Plan ahead to secure temporary offices and utilities. The CPR should include steps for emergency response and business resumption — including the use of temporary power and temporary offices. The plan should also include the emergency contact information of all those who can provide temporary accommodations for county emergency operations. When a catastrophe strikes, availability of temporary or portable structures will be drastically limited. It is importantfor the county to plan ahead before the need arises.
- Take steps to protect the property from additional damages. The CPR should include measures for making temporary repairs to prevent further losses. This might include clean-up of flooded structures, placing tarps over damaged roofs and boarding up broken windows. Mold growth is one of the most common consequences of standing water, which must be extracted as quickly as possible. Your CPR should include the emergency contact information of vendors who provide flood damage cleanup services.
- Protect your computer networks and systems. The CPR should include measures for providing computers, phones and other electronic devices county employees need should their normal ones be damaged or non-functional at the time of an emergency. Maintaining document backup or cloud storage should be a part of your CPR.
- Maintain county equipment and vehicles. Well-maintained vehicles and equipment will be needed to respond in an emergency. Your CPR should include provisions for maintaining an emergency supply of fuel supply or access to a fuel supply in the event of a catastrophe when gasoline might be in short supply.
- Prepare for business interruption and the extra expense of a catastrophe. During the initial catastrophe response, the county will likely incur extra expenses, such as overtime labor and temporary or emergency repairs. It is important the county track and record these expenses. With proper documentation, these emergency expenses may be reimbursable through your coverage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other organizations.
The following links have information that may be helpful in preparing your County Preparedness & Response Plan:
Think ‘safety first’ for county employees The safety of county employees is the first thing to consider when responding to a catastrophe. County officials will be inspecting county facilities and equipment to determine if there was any damage.
Consider establishing procedures in your CPR to determine the following, which could pose significant danger to county employees:
- Is the property structurally safe to enter and inspect?
- Is there a possibility of live electric lines, wires or panels that can pose a threat of electrocution?
- Is the roof safe to access?
- Is there potential for venomous snakes, disease-carrying rodents or other potentially dangerous animals in or around the property?
- Are hazardous substances such as asbestos, lead, mold or harmful chemicals present at the site?
- Do the employees have the correct training and personal protective equipment to inspect the damages?
Your CPR should include guidelines and regulations for handling and disposing of certain materials. Counties can consult licensed environmental or hygienist companies for questions on removal or disposal of certain chemicals, pollutants or other potentially dangerous materials. Texas Health and Human Services is another resource. They can be reached at:
Texas Department of State Health Services
Phone: 512-776-7111 or 1-888-963-7111 1100
West 49th St. Austin, TX 78756
Coverage documents provide steps for timely claim reporting Once the county determines if they have damages, the appropriate officials must determine if the county should file a claim. Most coverage documents contain conditions a member should follow after a loss. Some of those are reporting a claim in a timely manner and protecting the property from additional damages.
It may be necessary to retain an emergency service company to tarp a damaged roof, board up broken windows or extract standing water from a building. An adjuster or examiner can give you instructions on protecting the property from additional damages if the claim is reported timely.
The following link has instructions for filing claims:
County disaster recovery subject to government requirements
Counties, as governmental entities, may face challenging local, state or federal requirements that private property owners do not face when hiring vendors for repair work. It is important counties consult their county attorney to follow applicable bid laws and proper procurement methods. Some organizations maintain referral programs for vendors who are familiar with bid and procurement laws. Some of these organizations are Buy Board, Texas Cooperative Procurement Network (TCPN) and The Interlocal Purchasing System (TIPS).