Austin, Travis County, AISD look to build collaboration on community disaster hubs

Austin, Travis County and Austin ISD officials gathered Sept. 24 to discuss local resilience planning. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin, Travis County and Austin ISD officials gathered Sept. 24 to discuss local resilience planning. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin, Travis County and Austin ISD officials gathered Sept. 24 to discuss local resilience planning. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

After the fallout from Winter Storm Uri in February left many without power or running water—a dangerous and sometimes deadly combination—Austin-area entities began looking to create a network of safe shelters for residents during disaster situations.

At a joint meeting Sept. 24, Austin, Travis County and Austin ISD officials heard updates and voiced support for a process that could see dozens of local facilities improved and added to a network of resilience hubs—places that could provide water, food, electricity or a place to gather in an emergency.

The targeted locations include neighborhood schools, recreation centers, clinics, libraries and other government buildings that in some cases can function completely off the power grid.

"There are disasters happening around us. So these extreme weather events have really highlighted the need for accessible community spaces that can offer services to community members at the neighborhood and interpersonal level when extreme events happen," Austin Climate Program Manager Zach Baumer said.

The facilities' day-to-day uses would not change, but upgrades to offer specific services during weather emergencies would be made.


Potential hubs could range from completely grid-independent sites to those with a generator and places with no power adjustments that could still function as a gathering place when needed.

Upgrades to make existing buildings into hubs include adding a generator, battery or solar backups, new storage capacity for food and water, designation of indoor or outdoor staging areas, and other survival-based changes. Baumer estimated that adding every identified upgrade to a building could cost up to $1 million per location, though most hubs are not likely to receive such comprehensive renovations.

A goal of the expansion process is to make resilience hubs available to anyone in the city within a 15-minute walk, which staff estimated will require around 400 hub locations eventually coming online. Growing a network to that size will take time, Baumer said, and staff from the city, school district and county are now working to map out possibilities for expansion and collaboration.

Setting the stage

The city's push to build out the local inventory of the emergency centers was formalized in April when City Council passed a resolution directing the city manager to collaborate with local agencies on identifying and securing resilience hub sites.

Council went on to dedicate $3 million of its share of federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to a resilience hub pilot program designed to bring at least two such locations online within the next two years and develop a broader plan for rolling out more hubs in the community. The city's ARPA money must be spent by the end of 2024.

Baumer said community engagement and local collaboration will be needed to make the hub expansion successful, and AISD and county officials expressed enthusiasm for the plan.

Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea said it also represents an opportunity for local entities to be "much more proactive" in disaster response.

“Count us in as full partners," Shea said.

Baumer and Travis County Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion also said they hope to direct additional focus to setting up hubs in minority and lower-income communities, and those experiencing displacement.

"Low-income communities and communities of color in our city experience these things in a much more dramatic way; they’re harder hit; they're first hit; it’s harder for them to bounce back. And so when thinking about resilience hubs, we kind of immediately are focusing our efforts with equity at the center in all of our thinking and planning on this topic," Baumer said.

Staff will provide an update on this project at a future joint meeting among city, county and school district representatives.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. After spending more than two years covering in The Woodlands area, he moved to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city.



MOST RECENT

The 6.5-mile project will be an important connection for the pedestrian, bicycle and transit networks, according to city officials. (Courtesy Austin Public Works)
City of Austin begins design of urban trail on abandoned rail corridor

The city, along with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, won a state award for a Bergstrom Spur Trail study.

San Marcos Fuel Express is located at 5403 I-35, San Marcos. (Zara Flores/Community Impact Newspaper)
San Marcos Fuel Express now open

The new gas station also features a drive-thru car wash and Hunt Brothers Pizza.

Consuelo Mendez Middle School has consistently received poor ratings from the Texas Education Agency. (Community Impact Newspaper)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: State could take over AISD school board if poorly-rated campus does not improve; new furniture store to open in McKinney and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Dec. 3.

Derrick Chubbs is leaving Austin for a food bank in Florida. (Courtsey Central Texas Food Bank)
Central Texas Food Bank CEO Derrick Chubbs steps down

Derrick Chubbs is leaving Austin for a food bank in Florida.

Consuelo Mendez Middle School has consistently received poor ratings from the Texas Education Agency. (Community Impact Newspaper)
State could take over AISD school board if poorly rated campus does not improve next year

If the school does receive an improved rating, the state's commissioner of education could replace every member of Austin ISD's school board.

Austin ISD trustee Noelita Lugo argues for breaking down student achievement measures by race in the district's 2021-2026 scorecard, rather than examining only economically disadvantaged students without racial groups. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD considers how to measure equity gaps in academic achievement

Austin ISD trustees are continuing to work out details of the 2021-2026 district scorecard, which measures progress on equity goals.

Austin City Council made changes to arts and library funding among other decisions Dec. 2. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Hall notebook: Arts community, homeless health care program get funding, plus other actions

City Council approved more than 50 items Dec. 2, changing the Office of Civil Rights, doling out funding and more.

Council Member Greg Casar speaks at a press conference outside City Hall ahead of a vote to approve an ordinance granting the Austin Office of Civil Rights enforcement power. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Office of Civil Rights granted new powers

An ordinance passed by Austin City Council on Dec. 2 creates additional civil and criminal penalties for discrimination.

The school board will consider whether to call a special election to fill the vacancy or make an appointment. (Zara Flores/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: Hays CISD to hold special meeting on resignation of board member; Montgomery approves plan for downtown and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Dec. 2.

The existing gallery location on South Lamar Boulevard will close on Dec. 20. (Courtesy Ao5 Gallery)
Ao5 Gallery relocating from South Austin to The Arboretum this winter

With the relocation to Northwest Austin, Ao5 Gallery will expand its custom framing services, have better parking, be able to display more art and be able to accommodate more guests for live events, according to officials with the gallery.

Rendering of Tesla's Cybertruck
Tesla officially names Texas gigafactory as its new headquarters

A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing shows the Travis County manufacturing plant as Tesla's new home base.