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Memorial Weekend

It’s here! Beach season is on us. Depending on a multitude of factors, somewhere between 250-500,000 people will visit the island this weekend. And it won’t stop there. Last year, Galveston tourism set records for visitation and visitor spending. More than 5.8 million visitors came to Galveston Island, spending $687.2 million to generate an economic impact of $951.8 million to the local economy. This was a 5% increase from 2012.

Our tourism experts have been hard at work to keep the tourists coming. All of our major resort hotels have gone through renovations this year and we’ve had several new attractions open, including the new ropes course and zip line at Moody Gardens that just opened a couple weeks ago. In addition, the island just launched its first ever Certified Tourism Ambassador program where we are training hundreds of hospitality front-liners to provide deeper knowledge of the destination and better customer service to visitors. Being that our No. 1 attraction is the beach, they recently launched a new interactive website, www.galvestonbeachinfo.com, that allows visitors to check out surf conditions, weather, beach events and more prior to coming down to the island. Finally, the island offers a lot of free entertainment throughout the summer, such as free Sunday concerts and East Beach or Movie Night on the Strand. Check this out at www.galveston.com.

But once we entice all these visitors to the beach it falls to the various public safety groups to protect them. Lifeguards, Firefighters, Paramedics, and Peace Officers will go into a frenzy starting this afternoon and for the next few days. Memorial Weekend is usually the busiest holiday of the year. We will be ready. Last Wednesday we held our annual mass casualty drill. The scenario this year was a boat accident in Offats Bayou and the Moody Gardens Colonel paddleboat was kind enough to participate and serve as a safe site for rescue and triage of patients. The “victims” were our 27 lifeguard candidates who learned by watching how more experienced responders handled their simulated injuries. These drills are invaluable when practiced right before the busy season. Although the drill went well, we did find a few areas that needed improvement during the debriefing afterwards. We’ll have those rough edges ironed out when we face the inevitable crises over the holiday.

Our lifeguard candidates who made it through the final exam and “night swim” are scheduled to shadow a working lifeguard today as a final phase of their training. They’ll be out along with all the rest of the staff Saturday.

When you come to the beach this weekend remember to swim near a lifeguard, stay far from the rocks, don’t swim alone, observe warning flags and signs, take precautions for the heat and sun, and keep a close eye on children. Feel free to approach the lifeguard with questions. The guards will be busy, but they’re never too busy to give safety advice, provide tourist information, help find a missing person, or assist with whatever problem you may have.

 

 

Oil Spill

Since the oil spill, life has been a blur of meetings, reports, surveys, and passing endless streams of information both up and down the chain of command.

The typical day for me has been to wake up at 4:45 and get to the joint command at the convention center by about 5:50. After checking in, I’d have a quick chat with Charley Kelly and Rosana Beharry from our city Emergency Operation Center to talk about what transpired during the evening the day before and the night. The morning briefing precedes smaller meetings, writing reports and sending them out, surveying beaches, getting input from beach cleaning and park staff and passing that back to the unified command.

Charley and Rosana have been been pulling 12hour shifts in the command center, along with representatives from the Coast Guard, GLO, wildlife recovery groups, NOAA, the responsible party and others. When not on their designated shifts, they’ve been in contact when issues arise, which has been basically 24 hours a day.

Charley and Rosana have represented all of our interests very well, but they are not alone in this level of dedication. The entire command center, which vaguely resembles the NASA control room, is divided up into groups overseeing operations, resource procurement, finance, command, wildlife, environmental testing, liaison, media relations etc. Each person in each group has worked untold hours at breakneck speed to handle this complicated event as it unfolded. All of this has been orchestrated using the guidelines of the national incident management system. Each person and group knows their specific role and how to interface in the most efficient way with the whole. All the information relevant to the city funneled through our local emergency operation coordinators to the appropriate groups. Since the beaches and some parks were impacted, much of this went through me to various departments of the Park Board.

The Park Board Beach Maintenance and Parks staff has been invaluable in surveying and reporting developments, as has been my staff. I’ve been so thankful for all they’ve done as well as city staff and the Tourism and Development and Administrative Departments of the Park Board. But I’d expect that from locals that have so much invested in our beaches, parks and tourism. What I didn’t expect is the response from all the different groups that came here to help.

As of Tuesday, over 15,000 workers have recovered 5,515.5 barrels of mixed oil and water, 116,304 bags of oily solids, and 672.87 barrels of decanted oil. Volunteers and professionals have captured, rehabbed, or recovered 578 animals. Countless volunteers have been checking the beaches, orchestrated by the Galveston Bay Foundation.

It’s been a humbling experience to see so many dedicated people work so hard.  The Coast Guard has done an amazing job coordinating everything and the responsible party has really stepped up. The speed, efficiency, and commitment of all the responding parties not only deserves our gratitude but, for me, has renewed faith in our capacity to dedicate ourselves to a cause that supports others and the environment.

Texas City ‘Y’ Oil Spill Information

Oil Spill Cleanup Efforts
For updates on the entire scope of the Texas City “Y” Oil Spill, a website has been created where press releases are being posted. For the most current information, visit http://www.texascityyresponse.com.

Weekend Beach Forecast

While some oil remains on the east end of Galveston Island and Sea Wolf Park area of Pelican Island, clean-up efforts are making progress and environmental testing approved by Unified Command indicates that oil-related compounds are not present at levels that would pose a human health-concern. The beaches along the Gulf are open as usual! Check out the Final Galveston and SeaWolf Park Statement for more information.

The health department has released a public health statement in relation to the oil spill and precautions people should take if they come in contact with oil.

To see live, real-time video fo the beaches, visit: www.galveston.com/webcams

Birds Impacted by Spill
The impact of the spill on birds and wildlife in the Galveston Bay area has been tragic, however we are happy to report that Wildlife Response Services is working very diligently to clean and care for the animals they’ve been able to capture, having saved many of them. Assessment crews are out scanning the coast and are reporting any oiled birds or other wildlife to Wildlife Response Services, which is then taking the animals to its rehabilitation center to clean and care for them. The public is reminded to refrain from capturing any potentially affected wildlife and is urged to contact 1-(888)-384-2000 if oiled wildlife is observed. Reporting photos of wildlife can also be emailed to wildlife@co.galveston.tx.us.

Health/Safety Updates
The Galveston County Health Department released a Galveston Bay Oil Spill Public Health Statement. Please read by clicking the link below:
http://www.gchd.org/press/2014/Galveston-Bay-Oil-Spill-Statement.html

Important Contact Numbers

Bolivar Ferry
409.795.2230

Wildlife Response Services
888.384.2000
If you encounter wildlife that has been in contact with oil, please contact the Wildlife Response Services number listed above.

Joint Information Center
713.435.1505

Claims Number
855.276.1275
A claims number has been established for persons or businesses that may be impacted by the oil spill incident.

Beach Patrol Dispatch
409.763.4769

Oil, Tri, and Jesse Tree

Very early one day last week I was about 150 yards from shore directly in front of the 37th street pier. I’ve been working quite a bit lately helping to coordinate resources due to the oil spill and it felt good to switch gears for a couple of hours. It was barely light and really foggy and these big rolling swells were coming in. As I paddled I looked back and saw three bottle nosed dolphins in the wave. Taking off I cut right and saw a big shape half submerged from which a very human looking eye looked at me. The dolphin and I made eye contact for what felt like several seconds before it submerged. I sent a silent greeting and felt gratitude that so little of our local wildlife was affected by the spill, at least compared to what could have happened.

We really dodged a bullet. The beaches look great and were barely impacted. It’s been an amazing experience working with the dedicated people that have been toiling around the clock to make things right.  When we wrap things up I’ll write more about this, but the weather is warming and its beach time! Lots of beach and Beach Patrol related events are coming, but there are a couple that I wanted to share.

Sunday is the Memorial Herman Ironman triathlon at Moody Gardens. This race has gotten huge and there will be several thousand athletes out there. We’re providing water security for the swim along with the Sheriff and Police Department dive teams. Come support this amazing event that brings so many people and so much good PR to Galveston.

In my column, I have shared many stories about how effective The Survivor’s Support Network is when a drowning occurs on Galveston Island. Since The Jesse Tree sold its building on Market Street, many people are unaware that their services not only have continued, but in fact expanded on the island.

The Jesse Tree uses compassionate, common sense in all of its projects and touches thousands of lives across the county and the region. Many of the families of drowning victims come from miles away.  They are so impressed with The Beach Patrol’s ability to connect them with The Jesse Tree and all the resources they bring to bear in their time of need.  It’s been a huge help to us and I encourage you to lend your support to this organization.

In fact, The Empty Bowl Event is coming up on Friday, April 11th at 6 PM at The Garten Verein. It’s a great event and generates funds to support The Jesse Tree.  This year you can sponsor an entire table of ten and invite family, friends or co-workers to turn out to show their support for the organization.  The event is sponsored by The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Galveston. Tickets can be purchased online at www.jesset ree.net. You can also call (409) 599 4847 or mail contributions to P.O. Box 575, Galveston, TX  77553.

Institutional Memory

Galveston city and county have a history of resilience. Despite our mercurial weather and politics we somehow manage to pull together when we need to. Many of those of us living here now have ancestors that rebuilt the city after the 1900 storm and erected the physical embodiment of that resilience and willingness to take on seemingly insurmountable tasks together when needed.

Only a few years back we once again proved that those qualities are still just as strong when we worked together to rebuild our communities after Hurricane Ike. We couldn’t have gotten as far as we have so quickly without governmental help, but much of that recovery happened by neighbors helping neighbors.

The wounds left by Hurricane Ike are diminishing, although we have a long way still to go before the physical and psychological damage is healed. Enough time, however, has passed that we’re already losing some of the institutional memory that our decision makers from that time had. How do we, as a community, keep the myriad of lessons learned despite the changes in city leadership and as people in key roles from that experience cycle out?

In a very forward thinking move, many of our city and county leaders attended an emergency management course at the FEMA training center in Emmetsburg, Maryland last week. It says a lot about the current leadership that they realized the importance of taking all of these busy, important people away from their duties for an entire week with the purpose of preparing them for how to deal with all stages of a catastrophic event, from emergency response all the way through debris management, restoring infrastructure and financial and psychological recovery.

The course itself was intense and even included three “table top” exercises that lasted several hours where we had to work together to address different problems that arose. A central theme that was repeatedly stressed was the importance of relationships and communication in getting a jump on both the response and recovery phase. It helped that we were locked into a compound in the middle of a blizzard! What little time was spent out of class was spent together continuing course discussions.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a group of Beach Patrol supervisors were taking their own course in disaster response. Kara Harrison, Josh Hale, Mary Stewart, and Kris Pompa went through a grueling swift water/urban flooding course in San Marcos. They spend 4 long days and one night in wetsuits learning swift water rescue techniques, search and recovery, and how to respond during a flood. This meets a goal we’ve been working on for some time on the Beach Patrol. We now have every full time member certified as a “Swift Water Rescue Technician”, which will prove invaluable to our community when we have our next flooding incident.

We don’t know when but we all know there will be another big one. The challenge is to keep the skills and institutional knowledge ready for that eventuality. Being prepared takes work, commitment, resources, and community buy in, but it’s essential.

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Tommy Lee of GEMS and Peter Davis of GIBP at FEMA training camp in Maryland, 2014.