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County irons out details in disaster preparedness plan

Friday, December 10, 2021 by Seth Smalley

The Commissioners Court convened for a work session Thursday to hear a presentation on county preparations for disasters, particularly those in the vein of last February’s Winter Storm Uri. The briefing was a response to a resolution commissioners approved on Nov. 16, directing county executives to flesh out the details of a disaster relief plan.

Commissioners’ original suggestions for the contingency plan included buying and stockpiling supplies in county precincts, obtaining shelf-stable meals, tire chains, vehicle equipment for snow, portable generators, anti-icing materials and more. County executives also discussed storable drinking water and mechanisms to communicate and work with the community during a disaster.

County executives went over the plan point by point, reviewing preparations and highlighting areas of confusion and making policy recommendations.

Chuck Brotherton, county executive for emergency services, pointed out that the current emergency management plan – a state-mandated document that each local government must create and maintain – was still lacking a response plan to winter storms. Over the course of the discussion, Brotherton also identified proposals from the initial resolution, and listed items and information that departments would need to carry out.

“Something that’s missing in that plan is explicit and detailed information about how we respond to winter storms,” Brotherton told commissioners. “We are not honestly a severe winter weather state. It’s a little bit lacking.”

He suggested the county work with an emergency management coordinator to beef up the emergency plan to include winter storms.

The second policy suggestion from county executives was for commissioners to make clear, specific plans for how county executives should emphasize disaster preparedness.

“I am suggesting to the court we make it more explicit – our disaster preparedness efforts. We make it explicit in our annual work plans, and then relate it to the work plans in our budget processes, year in and year out so that each year we, the executive team, are identifying gaps within our departments,” Brotherton said. He offered that the court could identify the required programs as well as financial and human resources necessary to compete these efforts.

Commissioners Ann Howard and Brigid Shea referenced communities across the country that are now prepping for extreme heat.

“What I really think we’ll need to do is take a broader look at extremes of all weather. Wildfire will absolutely be a reality in our community, so that needs to be incorporated as well,” Shea said.

“I think that when we talk about disaster, it includes everything that we’ve been affected by. Flooding, wildfires, the winter, and so I think that disaster really tells it all,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez said.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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