Gary Vincent, chief of the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department—which contracts with ESD 10 to provide services—said Magnolia-area entities will prepare their regional command center at the MVFD headquarters Aug. 26. The command center will include representatives from Montgomery County Precinct 2, the Precinct 5 constable's office, Magnolia ISD, the sheriff's office, the city of Magnolia and the MVFD, he said. Together, the entities are expected to make more definitive plans Aug. 26 on the likely response in the area.
"I feel very comfortable; we're very well-prepared and absolutely have a plan for providing services to the residents," Vincent said.
While the MVFD is no stranger to high-water rescues, amphibious vehicles and emergency operations, rescue operations this year could prove to be more difficult amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Vincent said. He said the group of Magnolia-area entities has discussed where residents in need could be sheltered—keeping social distancing in mind—as well as how to transport people should the area feel effects of Hurricane Laura.
"We have developed plans for rescuing people and sheltering people that involve preparations for COVID-19 screening," Vincent said. "We'll do some initial screening of people before we put them into boats or flood vehicles or things like that and again we'll do screenings and social distancing at shelters. ... We have moved supplies and things necessary to be able to provide those kinds of screenings. That's just added another layer to the challenges of the hurricane and flooding responses."
Vincent said while the department will rescue residents in danger—regardless of the presence of COVID-19—he asks residents to wear a mask and disclose any COVID-19 symptoms upon first responders' arrival to help protect other residents and first responders who may also be in rescue vehicles or at shelters.
Further, if residents are in flood-prone areas, Vincent said he encourages those residents to self-evacuate early to lessen the risk for first responders and others having to perform rescue operations.
Tomball City Manager Rob Hauck also said he encourages residents to prepare with ample food, water, prescription medications, pet food and supplies should the Tomball area lose power for a few days or weeks. Hauck said the city was without power for about two weeks during Hurricane Ike, which hit the region in 2008. He said he foresees the coming storm being more of a high-winds concern in Tomball than heavy rainfall, although the storm is still developing.
Although Hauck said he believes there is no reason at this time for residents to evacuate in Tomball, he said he encourages residents to avoid traveling on the roads if possible to allow residents from the south to more easily evacuate before the storm.
"I was just advised that our hotels are full here in town already, so clearly people are evacuating and coming up north," Hauck said. "If you don't need to be on the roads, don't be on the roads. Otherwise, be hurricane-prepared."
Around Tomball, Hauck said the city has tested all of its generators, topped off its fuel supplies and prepared equipment necessary for high-water rescues and tree removal as well as cleared ditches and secured shelter locations. Further, Hauck said the city's radio station—95.3 FM—is able to broadcast live, if necessary, for any important announcements.
"Any potentially major storm event like this, we're preparing as if we know that a Category 3 hurricane is bearing down on us," Hauck said. "We're going to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That has always served us well—being overprepared rather than underprepared."