State Hazard Management Teams

After some especially destructive weather in east Texas recently, the Governor's Division of Emergency Management has sent in one of its new Hazard Management Teams to help local governments and officials with their recovery operations. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

They're called "Hazard Incident Management Teams." They were created after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made it painfully clear that local emergency responders often need better coordination of the help they get from state level responders, especially in small towns and rural areas. One of the teams is now at work in San Augustine County, helping local officials manage the cleanup from recent flooding. Coordinator Bob Koenig at the Forest Service says the teams are made up of people with experience and skills that are desperately needed after a local disaster.

"It's a group of eight to fourteen first responders from all disciplines, fire, police, public health, public works, that respond to a jurisdiction and help them manage the response and recovery for any type of incident."

Koenig says because they operate out of the Governor's Office, the teams can respond anywhere in the state. They have state-level authority to work across local and regional jurisdictional lines, and they can cut through red tape so local officials can get things done.

"And it allows us to assist that jurisdiction in delivering those services that are required during a response to an incident, working toward moving as rapidly as possible to recovery, and allowing the jurisdiction that's victimized by a storm to focus on a lot of the other continuity of government issues that still go on."

Koenig says state hazard management teams don't just come barging in to push local officials aside. The team comes in only at the request of the county judge of a disaster stricken county, and once the team is on site, it works for the county judge.

"What we bring is the ability to work with those local first responders, and bring in other state resources and provide a bridge between the state and those federal resources that would come in to help. So we are actually that management piece for that chief elected official."

Koenig says the Governor's Division of Emergency Management is still organizing and training the All Hazard Incident Management Teams, and wants to have eight teams trained and at the ready by June 1st, when hurricane season begins. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.