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County gears up for severe winter weather, just in case

Friday, December 9, 2022 by Seth Smalley

Though extreme winter weather appears to be unlikely in the Texas forecast, Travis County is covering all its bases. The plans are, in part, a response to the snowstorm crisis Central Texas faced in early 2021, in which a lack of adequate preparation led to an estimated 246 deaths in the state.

Representatives from the Office of Emergency Management, Travis County Sheriff’s Office, the county communications office, and emergency service districts briefed the Commissioners Court on Dec. 6.

The likelihood of a catastrophic snowstorm is currently low, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The oceanic weather pattern, La Niña, will return this winter, probably leading to higher-than-average winter temperatures and less-than-average precipitation in Texas.

“But, as we know, average does not mean none,” Eric Carter, the chief emergency management coordinator for Travis County, said. “Therefore, we must all be prepared for winter weather. And that includes those at home.”

Carter said the county has 100 pallets of water and 16 pallets of heater meals ready to go. (One pallet of water contains anywhere from 1,500 to 2,200 bottles.)

“The emergency supplies we procure this year are are on hand and ready to deploy as needed,” Carter said. “We have been working with Transportation and Natural Resources fleet to purchase the vehicles and logistics support equipment. We hope to have one of the trucks in our hands by January, along with trailers to support the movement of material as needed.”

Carter also mentioned the county is hosting a series of emergency operations orientation classes for county staff and school districts.

Eric Stockton, the chief deputy with county technology and operations, briefed commissioners on his department’s areas of focus.

“There’s three areas of focus: alternate power or standby generators, hardening facilities for winter weather conditions, and preparing staffing and resources to respond to a weather event,” Stockton said.

The county has 13 standby generators held at 12 different locations. All are operational and tested regularly, according to Stockton.

“In terms of facilities hardening, there’s two basic approaches,” Stockton said. “One is ongoing monitoring, looking and inspecting plumbing – everything from installation to backflow, checking heating systems; all of those things can be done ahead of time.”

The other approach is focusing on the issues the county faced during Winter Storm Uri.

“Making sure those locations don’t experience the same types of issues again,” Stockton said.

Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion asked about personnel workflows during emergencies.

“Have we identified essential staff that needs to be involved in each work group, so that we know who’s elected to be here, and ultimately who is not, in an emergency situation?”

Travillion also suggested creating decision trees in the event of an emergency, something the city of Austin recently has done.

Photo from PxHere.

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