When Hurricane Harvey devastated the Greater Houston area in the fall of 2017, it showed local entities areas of needed improvement, according to representatives from Fort Bend County and the city of Fulshear.
Mark Flathouse, Fort Bend County fire marshal and emergency management coordinator, Fulshear-Simonton Fire Chief Herc Meier and Fulshear Police Chief Kenny Seymour discussed how their departments have improved operations to better prepare for the next big storm at the Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce’s Tackling Resiliency Challenges in North Fort Bend County event on March 21.
“Nobody anywhere had any idea what Harvey would do to us, and we didn’t know that until it was done with us,” Seymour said. “But what we did learn from that is that we have to collectively work together.”
And to work together, the city and county need better communication during emergencies, officials said.
“The No. 1 thing that I’m preaching right now is communication,” Flathouse said. “We failed, and I’ll use that word—and [there are]not a lot of times I like to say it—but we failed … We didn’t use all of our tools.”
He said the county has expanded its alerting system to add the ability to warn residents through text or phone messages about emergencies. The system can be used countywide or to target specific neighborhoods. Cities have the ability to put out their own alerts as well.
Fulshear’s police department is working to get more Fulshear residents signed up on the city’s emergency notification list, Seymour said. He explained that during Harvey, some inaccurate information was disseminated.
“Communication is key,” Seymour said. “We want to be able to provide [residents]with the most, the best information and the most timely information. But most important, most reliable information.”
Fully training city staff has also been a priority for the city, Seymour said.
“[The training gives the city] the ability to follow the protocols that not only the county is going to be following, [but also first responders]are going to be following, the state’s going to be following and FEMA is going to be following,” Seymour said. “So, it puts us all on the same path and helps some of the communication.”
Meier agreed that education improves communication. He said many people volunteer during emergencies, but many of them are not trained. Programs have begun in local high schools to teach students how to help out during emergencies.
“On the heels of Harvey, we had to discuss the things that we had to do for our area,” Seymour said. “Understanding [what]we didn’t understand is what the big, big picture is moving forward.”