Gov. Perry reviews emergency response on hurricane season opening day


by MARK WIGGINS and photojournalist DOUG NAUGLE


Posted on June 1, 2012 at 7:59 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 1 at 10:47 PM

AUSTIN -- From hurricanes to wildfires to tornados, nearly every county in Texas sees its share of disasters. Preparing for the next disaster, more than a dozen state and federal agencies gathered for Texas Governor Rick Perry's review.

"It's not, 'If we're ever going to have another hurricane,' it's going to be, 'When we're going to have that hurricane,'" the governor told media and first responders assembled Friday morning. "They're projecting between nine and 15 hurricanes during this season, but it only takes one."

Sprawled out across an open tarmac at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, new emergency vehicles and rescue technology presented a sort of "show and tell" of the current and future of disaster readiness in Texas.

One of the most important things in a disaster is getting people out of harm's way. Bus-sized ambulances or "ambuses" got their first test treating firefighters during the 2011 wildfire season. Ambuses operated under the Department of State Health Services disaster plan can transport up to 20 patients at a time hundreds of miles to safety.

There are some places that a regular vehicle just can't go, and TxDOT displayed a wide array of boats and amphibious vehicles capable of being redirected from law enforcement to emergency rescue.

State officials said one of the most difficult things in the past has been keeping track of evacuees and reconnecting them with family. To tackle the issue, the state has employed the use of RFID wristbands that store a person's information and allow the state to track their whereabouts. The bracelets not only help family members locate loved ones, but help disaster management teams keep track of how many people have been processed.

Dissatisfied with the federal government's slow response following Hurricane Ike in September of 2008, the state has also invested in resources for rapid medical response. A series of new portable tents designated as Mobil Medical Units can be set up in a couple hours and deployed from any of eight regional task forces.

It's a show of force that Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd hopes gets Texans thinking ahead. To get them started, the state has launched -- a website containing resources and instructions for preparing for the next disaster.

"Vigilance is something that over time starts to wane, and we need focusing events to give us windows of opportunity to get that message out," said Kidd. "That's what I hope we're doing here today."

With hurricane season underway, the next test could be just around the corner.