The weather last weekend was a good dry run for the emergency services. With the mix of a low in the Gulf, the incredibly powerful hurricane crossing over from Mexico, and a strong frontal system converging all around the same time no one knew exactly how bad it would get.
There are a lot of decisions riding on the weather forecast. Everything from when to move equipment off the beach to what areas are likely to become dangerous flooded roadways depend on the prediction. As always, our area National Weather Service Office came through with outstanding support. They went into overtime and started pumping out the latest information in the form of reports that included everything from rainfall amounts to tidal information and areas of the county that would be most heavily impacted. They also liaised with the Beach Patrol and other groups to put out coastal marine reports that include feedback from those of us on the ground. One of the most significant groups they support are the county and city Emergency Management (EOC) Offices.
The EOC offices then push that information along with real time information about specific areas that are affected out to the public and Emergency Services. In this particular case the City of Galveston EOC made the call to staff the call center throughout the event and to partially activate the Galveston Marine Response (GMR) program. This was not done lightly but looking at the potential hazard and consulting with the various emergency response agencies they felt better to be safe than to risk under reacting and have to play catch-up once things were developing.
Once activated, three teams comprised of members with various skill sets joined up and based themselves at 3 strategic fire stations so they could provide response to sections of the island if cut off. Each team combined had the following capabilities- water rescue, medical, law enforcement, communications. Each had a high water vehicle and a boat. A leader was appointed to each team so that each could operate independently if communications were cut off. Once the team members were “on loan” from the Police, Fire, or Beach Patrol they operate under the management of the Emergency Operation Center and the GMR Steering Committee throughout the event. A full activation would involve more teams and people and we would even rotate working teams out and replace them with fresh bodies while the first teams recovered and prepared to be re-deployed.
Fortunately, the event wasn’t too severe. The majority of the flooding ended up happening during the night when few people were out moving around. There was some flooding in specific areas from the high tides and all the rain, but it subsided fairly quickly. The teams ended up only responding to a couple of minor things.
The exercise is valuable though, as it will make things smoother when a big event happens and shows how much greater the whole is than the sum of its parts.