Saturday, September 24, 2005

H+14: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Back on shift…

Things are actually slow in the EOC so I have time to write. We’ve peaked at about 15,000 17,000 evacuees in 49 shelters, and things have gone well. One interesting note is that we’re currently sheltering about 1,000 animals. This being Texas, we had incorporated livestock evacuees into our plan, and low and behold our expo center filled up with horses on the first day.

Here’s the current situation:

As of about 2230 CST, Rita was 55 miles southeast of the Sabine Pass. 15-20 foot storm surges are expected in Jefferson and Orange Counties. Expect tornado spawns from the storm. The forecasts are also saying that the storm will stall over East Texas and dump 10-15 inches of rain. There is a possibility of 25 inches of rain in some locations. This is what Tropical Storm Allison did in 2001.

And estimated 2.7 million Texans have evacuated so far. Yup, we do everything bigger here.

Evacuations continue, but now the focus has moved to shelters of last resort and hasty shelters. The main effort is getting people off the roads and getting them food and water. Hopefully, these shelters will fair well in the storm. If you’re down with Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Tom Landry, or Elvis now might be this time for some praying.

There are no more cots in the State of Texas.

Search and Rescue (SAR) resources are pre-positioned in Houston and other areas outside the strike zone. FEMA is going to position other assets such as mobile hospitals into Houston as well. Once again, H-town makes it happen for God and Country.

The USS Iwo Jima and USS Shreveport are steaming in behind the storm with SAR and other military assets.

Fuel remains a major problem. The state is continuing to work the issue. Not only will fuel impact current operations, it will impact the return of evacuees in the zones that faired well in the storm. People may be stuck in the shelters for a while.

The next few hours:

Now the waiting begins. There is not way to tell what will happen as the storm comes ashore. The nightly state conference call ended with a “Good Luck and God Speed” moment from the state coordinator. The hard work begins when the sun comes up.

The next 24 hours:

Re-entry planning is the next priority. We will need to get people back into their homes as soon as possible, especially those from the zones that aren’t impacted like Corpus Christi and Matagorda Bay area. Fuel and traffic will slow this down. But, as a general rule of thumb, shelters can be sustained for 72 hours before tempers, supplies, and volunteer staff wears thin. Also, the focus will need to shift to long-term sheltering for those who loose their homes.

Friction Points:

  • Media Coverage: I don’t waste a lot of time bashing the media. It is what it is. But, what I’d like to see is “embeds” in the response effort. Hurricane coverage is a blonde on a beach. Iraq coverage is Rick Atkinson with the 101st. Who do you think has a better perspective? I’d like to see embeds in EOCs, SAR teams, and on the navy ships. The problem with the media coverage as it stands is that it shapes people’s perceptions in the wrong way. People decided not to leave because they believed that trying to get out was hopeless. A reporter on the ground with the Herculean effort that the State undertook last night would have helped the public gain and maintain perspective.

  • Information Technology: Sucks. I can set up a better web-based communications and information hub on Yahoo than Texas currently has at the state level. I have some very specific ideas that I’ll be putting together on this. Bottom line: We might as well being wearing pastel suits with two-day old beards because our IT is stuck in the 80’s. Maybe we can get Glen Fry to do the soundtrack.

  • Some personal notes: Our little shelter is going well in the Casa-de-Alexander. Zane is getting seriously doted on, but the one bathroom situation is getting old. I went for a run after my shift this morning, and I actually felt the breeze shift as Rita got close enough to impact the weather in Austin. Weird.


      At September 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

      The problem you have with Media Embeds in the EOC is that Emergency Reponse people hate the media almost as much as the military does. Everybody is always afraid that their actions are going to be taken out of context and they will look. Bad. Of course some people are ate up do look bad.

      My experince working with the media is like working with trained tigers. You had to feed them, but there was allways the chance you could get bit.


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