Last activated ahead of Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, Austin and Travis County that year took in evacuees for about five weeks and saw 850 individuals during the event’s peak. Williamson and Hays counties also coordinate through the plan.
Bryce Bencivengo, a spokesperson for the Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Austin and Travis County are preparing for 3,000 potential evacuees this time, although anticipated turnout and the duration the plan will be needed are not known.
“If we need to keep people here for a long period of time, we have hotel rooms available, and we have contracts in place that we’ll have all of the items that individuals would need for an extended stay,” he said. “If it turns out that we don't need it for that long and we're able to send folks home because this was a miss, then we can send them home as soon as possible. That would be obviously the best outcome.”
Austin and Travis County have a partnership with Galveston to take in evacuees during storms. The city of Galveston announced a mandatory evacuation order Aug. 25, and Galveston County announced a mandatory evacuation order for the Bolivar Peninsula on Aug. 25 with voluntary evacuation orders for other areas. Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in 23 counties ahead of the storm Aug. 24.
During past events the Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan outlines shelters including local school campuses and large gathering spaces for evacuees to congregate and stay. This year, however, hotels will be utilized as shelter due to COVID-19 concerns, personal protective equipment will be available and social distancing will be encouraged, Bencivengo said.
“In coordination with the state and under recommendations from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], we are providing noncongregate sheltering, which in this case for us means hotel rooms,” he said.
The Circuits of the Americas, located at 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd., Austin, is being prepared as a reception center, where evacuees will be screened for COVID-19 and directed to one of 15 hotels in the area for shelter beginning at 4 p.m. Aug. 25, Bencivengo said. Those from outside of Galveston County who show up to the reception area will be directed to the correct partnering county in the area.
Dynamic signs along the highway of evacuation routes leading to Central Texas will have information for evacuees. A phone number will also be released in the future to provide additional info to those in need, Bencivengo said, and city and county social media pages will be updated as information in available.
A list of hotels participating in the plan in Travis County has not yet been released.