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Austin moves to prepare for climate disasters

Friday, June 24, 2022 by Veronica Apodaca

City Council passed a resolution at its June 16 meeting to create a disaster preparedness guide and toolkit for the city. The guide, which will be part of the city’s climate response efforts, will instruct residents on how to create local resilience hubs in the event of an emergency. City staffers will be directed to work with area nonprofit organizations to create the guide.

The resolution, introduced by Council Member Kathie Tovo, comes a year after Winter Storm Uri shut down Texas’ electrical grid, leaving residents without heat. Residents who spoke at the Council meeting emphasized the importance of disaster planning for their communities in the aftermath of the storm.

“What we want to fight for is to have a plan for disasters if disasters were to happen again,” Irene Hernandez said, speaking with the assistance of a translator to urge Council to provide funding for disaster preparedness. “The freeze of 2021 is a story that we don’t want to repeat.”

The city will discuss how much funding the plan will receive in its budget meeting beginning Aug. 17.

“Several of us on the committee made the point that if some of these preparations mean adding staff or adding dollars to the budget so that the city can prepare, we support the (city) manager coming forward with those recommendations during our budget (meeting),” Tovo told the Austin Monitor.

The 2021 storm is just one example of extreme weather events that can be caused by climate change. One of the organizations working with the city to create the guide, Go Austin/Vamos Austin, has been partnering with the city in its efforts to respond to the climate crisis and climate disasters. GAVA hopes to make disaster preparedness accessible to Austin residents regardless of the circumstances in which they live.

“Depending on a person’s situation, their neighborhood’s situation, disaster and the response to it looks different,” GAVA Executive Director Carmen Llanes Pulido – who is also on the city’s Planning Commission – told the Monitor. “There needs to be an equity lens in how we anticipate, prepare and respond, both personally and institutionally.”

The resources provided by the guide and the toolkit may help to spread the awareness of disaster preparedness to areas of Austin that do not yet have the same level of preparedness as others. This is where the resilience hubs will be particularly useful.

While the city will be providing crucial information and resources, residents throughout Austin, as well as outside organizations such as GAVA, will be tasked with the responsibility of forming the resilience hubs and spreading information and resources to areas where they are most needed.

“The community fills in the gaps that the government can’t, and that’s why it’s so important for us to partner with each other,” Llanes Pulido said. “Because our government partners can reach systems that we can’t, and we can help them reach communities that they can’t, and so we all have to do this together.”

Photo by David Kitto, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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