Wednesday, September 21, 2005

H-48: It's The Big One

Update: Looks like its a CAT5 now. Fun.

As of 1000 CST, we were at about H-48 from Hurricane Rita. H-hour is when tropical storm force winds begin impacting the coast of Texas. At that time, evacuations halt and people button up and bunker down to ride out the storm. So, according to the latest forecast date, between 1000-1400 CST on Friday, Rita makes her debut. In the next 10-15 hours, the final decision on evacuations have to be made or people will not have enough time to get out.

My agency will begin 24hr operations today as we prepare to receive up to 40,000 evacuees from the coast. There is a long weekend ahead for yours truly.

Here is some key info as of 1000 CST:

  • The storm center is 755 miles East/Southeast of Corpus Christie and moving West at 13mph. Currently winds are sustained at 140mph. Rita is a CAT4 right now but may reach CAT5. Tropical wind bands extend 140 miles from the center of the storm. This band will expand throughout the day to 200 miles from the center. Landfall is expected early Saturday morning.
  • The models predict land fall near the Matagorda Bay area, but this can change as the storm head West.
  • Mandatory evacuations are underway in Galveston, Brazoria, and Harris (Houston) Counties. The governor has recommended that the coastal areas ranging from Jefferson County down to Nueces County evacuate. Weather will be good for the evacuation. Traffic management plans are being implemented to facilitate the evacuation.
  • The University of Texas Medical Branch , a big hospital, on Galveston Island is being evacuated by air and land. Patients are being distributed throughout the state.
  • All threatened special needs facilities both public and private (nursing homes, hospitals, jails, state schools, etc.) are being evacuated today. The goal for the state is to have all these facilities evacuated today. This is the major focus today. This is big logistical task involving the entire state.
  • Shelters are opening up throughout the state as the reception jurisdictions prepare to take evacuees. Shelter hubs are opening up throughout the state.
  • The State of Texas is prepositioning resources for entry into the strike zone. Search and rescue teams are being staged throughout the day. The state's goal is to have all of its support elements in place tomorrow afternoon.
  • Apparently, the governor has eased the restrictions on bus driver licenses so that all available buses can be used for evacuations. I'm not sure on all the details on this one, but the goal is that every resource be used. No idle buses like in NOLA.

Friction Points:

  • We still have 375,000 Katrina evacuees in the state either in hotels or shelters. This may impact our operations.
  • Pets. People died in Katrina because they wouldn't leave their pets. Policy has always been that pets are not allowed in shelters. The state has changed that policy and said pets are welcome as long as they are in containers. That's a new wrinkle on the plan, and we're having to make some changes. Fortunately, there are enough animals groups out there to help.
  • Resources. Many of the resources that we planned on getting from the state and federal government have been committed for Katrina. We can probably manage, but we have to make adjustments.
  • All the hotels in the Austin area are full because of the Austin City Limits music festival. Normally most evacuees seek sheters in hotels, but this may cause our shelters to fill up more rapidly.

Analysis: All of this is happening without one bit of federal resources being committed. FEMA is at the state operations center, but its a state and local show right now. We never planned on FEMA saving our bacon. And no this plan didn't happen overnight. It has taken years of detailed planning to reach this point. Will there be screw-ups? Yes. Will we do better than LA and NOLA? Probably.

This isn't meant as hubris. I feel that too many people, especially in the left side of the blogosphere, have rushed to defend the LA state and local governments. I disagree. I think they screwed up regardless of whether or not FEMA/DHS was slow on the draw. I don't think, knock on wood, that anyone is going to drown and die in a nursing home on the Texas Coast.

Elected officials bear the burden of emergency preparedness. The emergency plans all have their signatures.

More info: The Houston Chronicle has an excellent Rita section. Good article from there: Houston's hard-won lessons coming into play.


At September 21, 2005, Anonymous Ana said...

Stay safe. Thanks for the information.

At September 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great information. Thanks for the updates. Thanks for the service!

LT/980th ENG

At September 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to finally hear a state has their stuff together. You may be the only one.



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