Posts

Tech and Harvey

As Beach Patrol Supervisor Austin Kirwin navigated his jet ski to the side of the highway to drop off another group of rescued people, his partner helped them dismount the rescue sled attached to the ski and walked them to shore. Meanwhile, Austin pulled out his phone in its waterproof case and squinted through the rain and wind as he checked his messages. He had several new addresses that had been sent to him by someone who was combing social media platforms looking for people stranded in the Dickinson area. He chose one and directed the other three Beach Patrol rescue crews to other addresses.

It’s amazing what a role technology played during Harvey in comparison to just a few years earlier with Katrina, Rita, Sandy, and Ike. In Austin’s case, while power was down in many of the areas where people were stranded, they still had cell service and a charge on their phone. While waiting for rescue on roofs, in attics, or in the second stories of houses, many people were actively communicating via social media, text, and by making calls. While our emergency management structures were getting a handle on the immense scope of the problem, some of our more tech savvy responders were getting information through other methods. Later, when we were getting addresses directly though emergency management the process was much more efficient. But during the early stages, new technology was pretty useful.

There’s a web based program that emergency management centers use to coordinate aid and requests for aid now. If you are leading a city, county, or emergency response group you can request what you need via this program. It will be assessed and compared to other groups offering all kinds of aid. There was also an app created during Harvey to coordinate first responders in Houston. And there are several apps you can go to for requesting everything from donations of clothing or household items to volunteers who are willing to come help you rip the sheetrock out of your walls.

My crew used cell phones more than their radios to keep track of each other by sending maps with pins in them to indicate an address they need to evacuate people from to showing each other what their location is.  I was pretty impressed with my team. Most are young and tech savvy and did an amazing job of combining their grasp of newer technology with a strong base of rescue skills. But even as this played out a little voice in my head was saying not to become dependent on this. One thing those who have gone through a few disasters learns is that each crisis is very different and you can’t count on anything. Just because cell phones worked during Harvey doesn’t mean that we can count on that for the next one.

Modern responders are using new tools and technology to the best advantage, but should remain flexible and build redundant systems into any preparation or response.

Jesse Tree Support Network Fundraiser

Scanning the searchers briefly, I then turned to see with relief that a tent had been erected and the family was seated comfortably drinking water and talking to a Jesse Tree councilor who had just arrived…

Thinking back over the past decade I have lost count of the times we’ve worked a drowning on one of our beaches along with our public safety partners and had family members of the victim sitting on the beach looking to us for some type of resolution. We’re good at our primary mission of prevention and also, at rescue and the operational side of a recovery effort. But we’re just not geared for, nor do we have the resources for providing counseling or religions support. Nor do we have the capacity to beat the bushes for hotels to offer free rooms for families that can’t cover the cost or donations of meals, clothing etc. Families in this situation at times also need someone to be a liaison to public safety groups, consulates and embassies, or a network of emotional and spiritual support in their home communities. That’s why I’ll always feel a tremendous gratitude to Ted Hanley and David Mitchell of the Jesse Tree for their willingness to take on this emotionally draining, but critical role at a time that is so needed for these families. The team that has joined them through the years is no less compassionate and willing to step forward and do something that makes a real difference. They have done so much for so many and been amazing ambassadors for the spirit of caring and support that permeates so many people here on our island. And now it’s time for us to help them to help more of our guests. Here is what they are sending out to as many as will hear it and act:

“Tragedy Strikes when we least expect it. For over a decade the Survivor Support Network has responded with consolation, compassionate care, and common sense to the families and friends of drowning victims on Galveston’s beaches. This dedicated team of volunteers meets their immediate needs, while guiding them to the necessary resources in the aftermath of the tragedy. The team also ministers to the needs of the Beach Patrol staff- many of whom risk their own lives to save others and significantly feel the impact of these events. Without this well-trained team, these incidents would simply not offer the dignity and compassion that a loving community can bring to a tragedy. Please support our effort to keep this team on alert as the summer season approaches. The Jesse Tree invites you to support this worthy work by attending a Valentine’s concert fundraising event.”

The event will be held on February 12th at 3pm. Vocalist David W. Mitchell and Pianist Hector Bisio are the entertainment. Tickets are limited and can be reserved by calling 409-762-2233 from 9-11am M-F or by e-mailing info@jessetree.net or visiting www.jessetree.net. The event will be held at the beautiful T-House 1619 Sealy, Galveston, Texas 77550.

Storm Scare

A pop up storm can cause us to walk a tightrope and really highlights the interdependence of the groups that care for and protect our beaches.

 

History shows us that a tide of more than 3.5 feet above average puts our lifeguard towers at risk, which potentially could cost several hundred thousand dollars. It’s also been demonstrated that if we wait too long to get down there and move the towers, we can reach the point of no return where the equipment to move them can’t get down there, and high water, strong winds and sometimes lightning can put our crews at undue risk. The problem is that the farther we are out from the weather event the greater the degree of uncertainty.

 

This week really demonstrated how this works and how much we rely on our partners. Our friends at the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service predicted terrible weather headed our way. By terrible, we’re talking about up to 10 inches of rain in some areas, potential lightning, hail, and tornados, and tidal surge coupled with 30 mph winds and offshore waves of up to 15 feet. Bad. But the tides were only predicted to be around 3 or 3 ½ feet, which under “normal” circumstances wouldn’t warrant all the trouble, expense, and potential damage that moving all 31 towers off of the beach would incur.

 

The NWS office put out updates every few hours and we, as well as the other public safety agencies and city staff, had been following them closely. Our Emergency Management Office kept checking to make sure we all had the latest info as well. I can’t really adequately explain how much the NWS crew does for us and all the other groups they work with including the general public. One example is that one of the guys up there who is also a friend sent me a text late Monday evening saying that the projected offshore wave height had increased and that there was a good chance that on the beach the waves and wind could push that maximum tidal height up even more and could potentially cause the water to reach the base of the seawall. Talk about a hot tip!

 

So, at 10:30 at night I called Jesse Ojeda, who heads up the Coastal Zone Management Department of the Park Board. Without hesitation his answer was, “We’ll start at 5am”. Wow! By the time I checked with him at 6:30 they’d already gotten half of them up to the top of the seawall where they’d be safe. And since the wind wasn’t going to blow harder than about 30mph we didn’t have to truck them all the way to another part of the island.

 

Good to have friends!

 

Stay tuned because lifeguard tryouts and spring break start tomorrow. Time to start the beach season!

Thank You SSN Groups

Sometimes it seems like we all scurry about for most of our lives. The politics, games, gluttony, maneuvering, manipulation and acquisition of things is a fantastic distraction. If not careful we can get so caught up that it completely disconnects us from what really matters.

There are times in all of our lives when critical things happen. Birth and death, tragedy and events that cause intense joy give us an opportunity to touch something real. One of the most important things we can tap into is the opportunity to be present and supportive when others are going through these critical junctures in their lives. There’s always a reason that we can’t be there, always something that seems more critical. But if we take a moment to weigh the options there are few things that truly take precedence in the big picture. Unfortunately, many people and organizations miss these opportunities because we are scurrying around dealing with whatever it is that we’re so busy doing all the time that we don’t really remember afterwards.

I would like to acknowledge a few groups that made it a point to be there when it was most needed. First is the Jesse Tree, with its wonderful group of volunteers and too few paid staff members. The Jesse Tree has worked against insurmountable odds to keep their doors open and continue to serve a variety of populations with no other recourse. It’s a true calling for them and it’s been an inspiration and honor to work alongside them. The Jesse Tree/Beach Patrol Survivor Support has been busy this year and responded to a number of tragic drowning deaths and aquatic accidents. But they haven’t had to go it alone.

Thank you to several Galveston businesses and volunteers for their commitment and support.

There were many hotels. The Red Roof Inn at 5914 Seawall Blvd were there with rooms and meeting spaces and more for multiple events. The Commodore on the Beach Hotel, 3618 Seawall Blvd., Four Points by Sheraton, 2300 Seawall Blvd., Gaido’s Seaside Inn, 3700 Seawall Blvd., Best Western Plus Seawall Inn & Suites by the Beach, 102 Seawall Blvd. all came forward when most needed at no benefit to themselves.

In several of these situations a gathering room was provided for large groups of family members so they could have a place to commune during a search which lasted days. Rooms were provided for sleeping as well. But when people are grieving its critical to make sure both body and spirit are nourished. Restaurants such as Tortuga’s at 6010 Seawall Blvd and The Float Pool and Patio Bar at 2828 Seawall Blvd volunteered food, as did the Lighthouse Charity Cooking Team.

Support also came from the Galveston County Emergency Response Team, who searched tirelessly, and from EZ Bike Rental at 4712 Seawall Blvd and Galveston Real Estate Resource.

Anyone interested in supporting and/or participating with The Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, please call Sheila Savage at 409-771-2545.

All of these groups honor our community and represent the best in and of us.

Dune Planting with Artist Boat

Help Artist Boat restore a dune destroyed by Ike this weekend! They’re looking for volunteers who would like to participate in our dune planting events this Saturday, February 21st, from 9:45 AM-2:30 PM and Sunday, February 22nd, from 12:45-5:30 PM. Please contact Nate Johnson at (409) 770-0722 or at njohnson@artistboat.org to register for an event!

Dune Planting2

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.

IMG_1071

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