Due of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the state has worked with local emergency management divisions to set up hotel rooms for evacuees instead of the mass shelters that are usually used during these emergencies.
“COVID[-19] put a whole new spin on hurricane evacuations,” Frisco Fire Deputy Chief Scott Vetterick said.
Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in the early morning hours of Aug. 27, sending many residents in its path fleeing to the north. The Frisco Fire Department began working with Visit Frisco on Aug. 25 to secure blocks of rooms at a number of hotels in the city for those seeking shelter from the storm.
As of Friday afternoon, Visit Frisco Executive Director Marla Roe said more than 700 of the city’s hotel rooms were full. She added a number of Frisco hotels have also brought staff members back from furlough to help with the influx of evacuees.
“Our [hotel] industry has been decimated [by the coronavirus pandemic],” Roe said. “They're all kind of hanging on by a thread anyway, so this opportunity that the fire department and the state presented is really a godsend for the hotels and the evacuees.”
The hotel rooms are paid for by the state to house evacuees who qualify. The state contract also provides them with three meals a day, Roe said.
“[For] some of the hotels that don't have regular food service, we provided them with a list of restaurants that could provide box lunches and things like that,” Roe said.
Vetterick said he spent several hours Wednesday and most of Thursday helping many people who had been waiting 12 hours or longer to find a place to stay.
“People from Orange, Lake Charles, Beaumont–just everywhere up and down the coast–and they are all so thankful and appreciative of us trying to help them,” he said. “My heart goes out to them because I can't imagine having to go 300-400 miles, not knowing if there's going to be place for you. And then who knows what's going to [happen] when they go back.”
Roe said she knew one Frisco firefighter who gave an evacuee money out of his own pocket to get a ride out of town when the city’s available rooms filled up. Vetterick said that was one of the department’s battalion chiefs.
“People just got dropped off [from] buses, and they had no way to get to anything,” he said. “[He] gave a lady cab fare to get to Grapevine because that was the only hotel we could find yesterday.”
Some of Frisco’s hotels actually agreed to provide rooms before the state could get a contract in place, Vetterick said.
“It just shows how well all the facilities and the properties in our city have been working [with emergency management],” he said.
The Frisco Police Department also helped provide security and additional personnel for the efforts, Vetterick said.
“It's just been a collaborative effort from multiple departments within our city,” he said.
The Frisco Fire Department has several members who went to help before the hurricane’s arrival as part of the Texas A&M Task Force 1 team that deploys for natural disasters.
“We also have sent our crew with our ambulance bus down to Beaumont,” Vetterick said. “They did multiple missions evacuating Beaumont and that whole Port Arthur area. They'll be down there the rest of the weekend actually helping to repatriate some of the people they moved out.”
For hurricane evacuees who do not qualify for the state program, Visit Frisco also set up a link on its website with a list of hotels offering special discounted rates.