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Photo by Austin Energy

County acts to prepare for next big storm

Thursday, November 11, 2021 by Seth Smalley

The question of disaster relief preparedness was central at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court session. With the memory of Winter Storm Uri still fresh in people’s minds, the county is putting together a contingency plan.

“The goal here is to get some real sort of concrete things that we can do quickly,” County Judge Andy Brown said, “in case we end up having the same kind of storm that we had last year.”

Commissioners proposed a resolution whose goal was for the county to gather the necessary human and financial resources, including buying and stockpiling supplies in the relevant county precincts, to prepare for future winter storms or other emergency disasters by Dec. 9.

“This would include storable water, and paper cartons, cans or boxes rather than plastic bottles, sufficient for two days of distribution and sufficient for use by all county employees acting as first responders,” Brown said.

The resolution also lists shelf-stable meals, tire chains and other vehicle equipment for snow, and portable generators as items to obtain.

“This should include recommendations for which county departments should lead this effort, how to prioritize and best use generators in an emergency, sufficient chains or other equipment to ensure the county vehicles including the Sheriff’s Office vehicles and every county vehicle can travel in snowy or icy conditions to provide emergency services,” Brown said to the court, reading from the resolution.

The county also plans to acquire de-icing solutions such as snow-plow attachments for vehicles and anti-icing materials to spread on critical roads in emergency situations. Other contingencies include ensuring the existence of adequate vehicle supplies and staffing, language services and behavioral health providers, as well as community networks and distribution hubs.

Lastly, the resolution asks for the creation of an after-action review of Travis County’s response to Winter Storm Uri, focusing on the impact of the storm in all precincts.

“The thought here is that this is a starting point. It’s something that we could do really short-term, and the goal is to do this quickly just so that we can make a few improvements before we get storms again this winter,” Brown said. “Winter is coming. These are five really concrete things that we need to have in place.”

Commissioners Jeffrey Travillion and Brigid Shea suggested moving the item forward one week so their offices could have time to add additional preparatory measures.

“What I’d like to do is just look at it, work together and make sure that we get the benefit of everybody’s input into it. Just haven’t had a chance to read it, evaluate it and say anything about it, and a week would give me that,” Travillion said.

“We worked really hard at (Capital Area Council of Governments) to improve our emergency notification system so that the reach went from 7 percent to above 70 percent. But it wasn’t utilized during the winter storm,” Shea said. “It could have been helpful just telling people what to do if their water pipes were frozen or if their power went out.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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