Prepare and Respond: Harris County Reacts To A Mock Hurricane

It may be just a drill, but Harris County officials are conducting an extensive hurricane preparedness exercise. It's an effort to hone their response to an actual weather emergency.

Volunteers joined state and local emergency management officials in the 2-day Hurricane Alexis full scale exercise at Reliant Center.

Fransisco Sanchez is with the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"What we're trying to do here is test all of our emergency response plans for after a hurricane makes landfall. We've got cities involved, Harris County departments, law enforcement, fire, and we're testing all the worst case, what if scenarios, to be able to test our plans, find gaps, and find what works well."

Reliant Center serves as the back-up to the back-up emergency location in a real setting, if Houston TranStar and its secondary site, are damaged due to a Hurricane and not able to function in an emergency response.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is also the director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He says the response to Hurricane Ike four years ago was an excellent learning tool.

"We were ready for the storm. Clearly, evacuation was improved tremendously from Rita to Ike, but it was the aftermath. There was a freak rain storm on Sunday morning after Ike came in. Interstate 10 flooded, Interstate 45 flooded, relief supplies had trouble getting in. That wasn't something we planned on."

He adds Ike made them improve on the distribution of supplies. Judge Emmett says citizens should already know how to respond to a weather emergency, and dealing with the aftermath as well:

"Make their own plans, have a kit, know if they're in a likely storm surge area and might have to evacuate. Make sure their car — I mean, here we are, we're in August — your car should always have a half a tank of gas, at least  You should have a kit ready in case you need to evacuate, or you should have the supplies on hand at your home, in case you're one of those that needs to ride out the storm."

Mark Sloan is the Harris County Emergency Management coordinator. He says maintaining law and order when dealing in the aftermath of a hurricane is critical.

"Our role in emergency management is strategic in the thought processes. We're looking of what's happening in the next 24, 48, 96 hours, and our tactical responders, which are traditionally law enforcement, our fire departments, our EMS providers, and other operational aspects of the response and the recovery, have plans in place as well, and they're working through those."

He uses a sports analogy with this exercise in responding to a hurricane:

"The way you practice is the way you play. So when the real-world events occur, if we practice hard and we exercise our plans, we will be better when it's game day."

For more information, visit our hurricane resources page.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...