Pearland, Friendswood invest in emergency readiness with personnel, equipment


As June marks the beginning of hurricane season, Pearland and Friendswood are urging residents to prep for the next storm. Since Hurricane Harvey in 2017, both cities are stocking up on resources, including personnel, technology and equipment, in case of the next heavy flooding event.

The Pearland Police Department will build a new mobile command unit, which will give police access to technology in a safe area in case of an emergency. The command unit should be available for police in August or September. This, combined with increased staff, more military high-water vehicles and funding earmarked in the fiscal year 2020-21 budget, should help the city in any storm, officials said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge in investment. The city is fully on board,” Pearland Emergency Management Coordinator Peter Martin said.

While Friendswood is also adding to its personnel and equipment, the city is making sure the personnel and technology it already has is at its best in case of a disaster.

“Part of our plan is just constantly reviewing the equipment and personnel training and doing our best to make sure everything is up to date,” said Brian Mansfield, the fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for the city of Friendswood.

While both cities crack down on making sure city staff is ready for another incident, officials encourage residents to do the same, and prepare for flooding, especially.

“The No. 1 hazard in the area is flooding,” Martin said.

Acquiring equipment
Harvey taught Pearland how to better prepare for a large storm, Martin said.

“No one goes through a situation like Harvey without coming away with a couple lessons,” Martin said.

The city learned three lessons, Martin said: increasing capability, instituting or tweaking policies and procedures, and having an incident management team.

In terms of capability, the city learned it needed more equipment to better handle the storms. One of these is a new command center, which the city and the Pearland Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association have helped the police department fund. Another is military high-water vehicles, which the city acquired six of last summer. The city acquired the vehicles through a federal Department of Defense law enforcement support program for free, Martin said.

The city has also gotten to deploy the high-water vehicles during the rain in mid-May, city officials said.

While Pearland did not flood during the heavy rains in May, the city sent the high-water vehicles to Sugar Land.

“If anything, this is proof that we will always send resources to areas that need it, even without compensation,” Pearland Communications Director Josh Lee said.

The city of Friendswood also increased its capabilities by adding a boat to the city’s supply, as well as high-water vehicles. The city also refurbished its existing boats with new equipment and motors.

“The equipment is based on lessons learned for that need,” Mansfield said.

The police department’s new mobile command center will cost roughly $300,000 and will be a place where the police department can have the necessary equipment to do its job out in the field during a disaster.

“The mobile command post becomes a mobile office where the Pearland police can make their presence known to the public,” said Cindy Bilyeu, a member of the Pearland Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association and co-race chairperson of the Pear Run, in an email. The Pear Run raised $50,000 toward the new center.

The center will allow officers to meet with staff and personnel, discuss plans for how to deal with the issue at hand and keep an eye on the radar, all while staying out of inclement weather, Bilyeu said.

“This is an important piece of equipment that can be used for multiple purposes throughout the years to come,” Bilyeu said.

Doubling up duties
In both Pearland and Friendswood, adding emergency personnel—including firefighters and police officers—is part of emergency readiness, so there are more people if an emergency strikes.

The city of Friendswood has added more emergency management—or fire, EMS and public works officials—since Hurricane Harvey, as has the city of Pearland.

However, those who are not first responders are still given tasks during an emergency, said Jeff Newpher, communications director for the city of Friendswood.

“With roughly 40,000 residents and 220 city employees, I can’t think of anyone that doesn’t multitask during an emergency,” Newpher said.

Public works is also one of the first responders in an emergency in both cities. Training for all city officials happens year-round in Friendswood, officials said.

“We are just trying to have the best level of trained personnel,” Mansfield said.

The city does drills throughout the year that help to pinpoint areas that could be improved in case of an emergency, officials said.

“Those things happen constantly, year-round,” Newpher said.

Making sure policies are up to date and that there are enough personnel were both parts of what the city took away during Harvey, Martin said.

“In some areas, policies need to be improved. Other areas needed a response,” Martin said.

Another part of preparing for the next storm includes preparing for the aftermath of a storm, Martin said.

Pearland hopes to fund technology that will help the city understand the damage of a storm better and more efficiently, Martin said.

“One of the things we are looking for is damage assessment [technology]. It would allow us to send our people out in the streets and document damage and do it in a consistent manner,” Martin said. “It compiles all of it so that it is easily digestible by [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. We can see individual properties being assessed and how widespread the damage is.”

The faster the city knows the damage caused in the area, the sooner it can assess what needs to be done in terms of repairs, Martin said.

“You really need to know what type of damage you are dealing with before you can determine what type of resources are necessary to alleviate the situation,” Martin said.

What residents can do
While Pearland and Friendswood invest in being ready in case of a storm, the biggest thing both cities stress is having a plan in place when a storm strikes.

“I think one of our problems is trying to reach our citizens,” Martin said. “Everyone needs to accept responsibility for the well-being of them and their family.”

For residents, this can look like having enough supplies if you plan to wait out a storm or an evacuation route in case you need to leave the area, Mansfield said.

“Typically, the cities in the coastal regions don’t spend a lot of time on shelters,” Mansfield said. “We try not to shelter any longer that we have to in that area. The reason why is we typically try to evacuate. We can move them into a more stable environment.”

Another protection both cities encourage residents to have is insurance. Because of the prevalence of flooding in the area, residents should have both flood and windstorm insurance, officials said.

“We are getting into hurricane season. Each of these hurricanes bring different threats. People need to be prepared for each threat,” Martin said.

Not every home is made to withstand a higher-category hurricane, Martin said. Older homes might not have been built to a newer flood plain map and could be in danger as well, Martin said.

“Know what your home is built to and what it can withstand. Plan for pets, special needs, children, and protect important documents,” Martin said.

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Haley Morrison
Haley Morrison came to Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after graduating from Baylor University. In her tenure as a reporter, she has primarily written about education, health care and transportation.
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