The city of Pearland has introduced new plans and strategies to improve its response to natural disasters ahead of what storm experts are calling an “above normal” hurricane season.

Why it matters

Because Pearland experienced a lull in storms in fiscal year 2023-24, the city’s office of emergency management, or OEM, was able to focus its efforts on bolstering its strategic planning, according to the office’s 2023 annual report.

Every five years, the city must submit a new emergency operations plan for state approval. In 2023, Pearland’s office of emergency management had to update six portions of the plan, including:
  • Emergency public information
  • Recovery
  • Engineering and public works
  • Utilities
  • Resource management
  • Legal aspects
Among those changes, the city is building a joint information center to host press conferences and manage media operations during emergency events, communications director Josh Lee said.

Educating the public on how to prepare and stay safe during a natural disaster was a top priority for OEM in 2023, officials said. In anticipation of this year’s hurricane season, which experts have said since May they expect to be a busy one, OEM drafted appeals to Pearland and the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry, or STEAR, registrants to prepare to shelter-in-place for no less than 96 hours to help cut down on the number of people needing to use the STEAR program.

The STEAR program is a free registry that provides local emergency planners and emergency responders with additional information on the needs in their community, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Mayor Kevin Cole said on July 5 that the public must understand that in severe storms where the city takes a direct hit, first responder services might not always be available for every call.

“Past [that] point, we don’t respond to calls because we can’t get the equipment out. We can’t risk [first responder] lives. Those are hard calls to make,” Cole said.

What else?

During a natural disaster, city staff shelter in Pearland’s public safety building. In the event of a severe storm, people are expected to eat there, too, so the city updated the building’s kitchen to commercial standards and installed big refrigerators, freezers and a cook station with an overhead in 2023.

During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, when people sheltered in the public safety building, there was insufficient equipment to prepare food for a large number of people, Emergency Management Coordinator Peter Martin said.

“We’ve now remedied that,” Martin said.

The OEM team has also enhanced its fleet of emergency response vehicles and boats since Hurricane Harvey, Martin said.

“During Harvey, [the city] decided they needed boats and they didn’t have [them], so they went down to Bass Pro Shop and got some boats,” Martin said. “That’s the sort of thing that gets people hurt.”

Since then, the city has purchased three boats that are up to standard and train with the boats every year, Martin said.

The city has also purchased six military surplus trucks for high-water rescue and created a 120-person incident management team.

The teams’ job is to organize and oversee preparedness for a threatening event and recovery from it, Martin said.

The background

Hurricane season began June 1, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 17 to 25 named storms and at least 13 hurricanes, according to news releases from the agency.

Community Impact previously reported that the NOAA urged residents along the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding areas to expect a more active hurricane season than normal, with an 85% chance of an above-normal season, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said at a May 23 NOAA news conference.

On July 3, Governor Greg Abbott directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to issue an advisory notice to the 39 Texas Emergency Management Council Agencies, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The notice instructed them to prepare to support hurricane response and recovery efforts and to develop 24/7 staffing plans for the State Emergency Operations Center. This action was taken in response to Hurricane Beryl's forecast track, which is expected to impact the Texas Gulf Coast.

In their own words

“We learned a lot from Harvey,” Martin said. “We’ve had a lot of threatening experiences since then. ... The 2020 hurricane season ... the winter freeze in 2021. ... We share an obligation to learn from history, and we cannot repeat the same mistakes of the past.”

Currently, the OEM is trying to organize a community recovery committee to manage foreseeable tasks that need to be done in the aftermath of a disaster such as feeding people and offering childcare and transportation, Martin said.

“We reside on the periphery of the nation’s fourth largest city, [but] we’re a rural county,” Martin said. “... The cattle ain’t charging up SH 35 from Angleton to save the day for Pearland, so we solve our own problems or they don’t get solved.”