Austin, Travis County release reports following Winter Storm Uri, recommend heightened preparations for future events

Photo of people waiting in line outside Dollar General in the snow
Austin residents wait in line to buy supplies during the February winter storms. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin residents wait in line to buy supplies during the February winter storms. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

The city of Austin and Travis County on Nov. 4 released reports analyzing their preparation and response to February's winter storms along with recommendations for how the area can better prepare for future severe weather situations.

The published findings, called "The Winter Storm Uri After-Action Reports", are an analysis of 100-plus documents, plans, surveys and staff interviews, and contain 132 recommendations to improve preparations for future weather emergencies and prevent many of the impacts seen during Winter Storm Uri.

According to the reports, the storms caused $195 billion in damages across Texas with 2,449 calls to Austin Fire Department reporting broken pipes, 1,500 emergency water shutoffs for city water customers and 739 traffic crashed responded to the AFD. The city's Utility Customer Care Center received more than 100,000 calls regarding power outages while the state's electric grid struggled to meet electric demand, and a boil-water notice persisted for seven days as Austin Water's distribution system lost pressure.

“Both county and city staff worked tirelessly during the storm. Still, there are many lessons to learn so, in the future, we better recognize, support and institutionalize the important and necessary grassroots aspect of our community’s emergency response," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement.

The city and county also identified a list of "key recommendations" to focus on moving forward. They include but are not limited to:

  • revamping emergency planning to anticipate "multiple hazard events with cascading impacts and infrastructure failure";

  • considering the possibility of adding "resilient water infrastructure" for hospitals and local government facilities;

  • identifying durable emergency shelters with adequate heating, water and other utilities;

  • developing an emergency feeding plan to distribute shelf-stable food to community members in need; and

  • upgrading the city and county's emergency transportation fleet, providing access to emergency transportation and improving roadway safety during icy conditions.

Austin Energy and Austin Water published their own internal assessments as well, identifying areas for improvement in communication with customers, winterization of water and wastewater treatment plants and other utility resources, and bolstering storage resources of chemicals and other supplies for which procurement could be hindered by supply chain issues, among other concerns. According to the utilities, some of the improvements named in their reports are already underway.

"City and county staff responded to hundreds of traffic crashes, distributed food and water, and mobilized temporary and longer-term shelter for hundreds of people seeking safe haven from the storm. Our community partners also played an important role during these critical events to help people in need, and we are thankful for their efforts," City Manager Spencer Cronk said in a news release.

With winter coming soon, the city and county also urged residents to make their own preparations by building emergency kits with enough food, water, batteries and first aid supplies to last at least a week. Residents can also reference for more recommendations.

The after-action reports will be discussed in greater detail at a City Council meeting Nov. 4 and at a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting in the future. Community Impact Newspaper will update this story following the meetings.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.