TEXAS VIEW: Releasing emergency plan will help officials, public be better prepared

By Victoria Advocate

The Victoria city and county officials have released a copy of the 929-page emergency plan.

The plan is designed to be the official handbook of how to be prepared for and respond to emergencies ranging from floods to hazardous material spills to nuclear cite crisis and natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The plan has been held so close to the vest of select officials for many years that even elected officials were not privy to the information until recently when city Councilmember Jeff Bauknight asked for a copy of the plan so he could have informed answers when the public needed information.

The Advocate also asked for a copy of the plan in early December, but was told no because it contained confidential material. But after learning other counties have posted their plans online, local officials changed their minds and agreed to release it after information they deemed confidential was redacted.

The plan is on the website now for anyone to read, the way it should have been all along.

Releasing the emergency plan is the right step. At the very least, the public can now get more informed, involved and better prepared.

It will allow the public an opportunity to volunteer to be a part of the committees the plan calls for to be set up prior to disasters.

It will help all in city and county governments be prepared for the next disaster when it happens.

We are doubtful many will take the time to read all 929 pages of the plan. To say it is not light reading is fairly accurate. But it is divided into sections that allow the public to pick sections that interest them.

Unfortunately at this time the plan is only a document online and not interactive and not searchable by topic. It does contain a two-page table of contents at the beginning of the plan.

As the emergency management officials begin working on the new plan, it is important for all to include lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey and other disasters so preparation for the recovery is already in place before the disaster.

A good example of the city doing this was pre-contracting for debris removal, which meant the contractor was in town soon after it was safe for workers to begin to clear the debris.

This also locked in the city on a set cost and expectations for the contractor, cutting out needless lost time to negotiate after the disaster.

The city is also taking the right steps now by having a consultant look at its water supply needs so it can be prepared with the right equipment to keep the water supply running to the city.

While we applaud the city for taking these steps, we question why they did not do a full damage assessment for private property. It is not credible to say the assessment was not needed because the federal disaster declaration had been granted.

This information would have greatly helped not only the city, but also nonprofits and recovery groups to know how badly the city was damaged and where the needs are for helping in the recovery.

We are also concerned that required parts of the plan were not followed. It appears the preparation for this storm was not carried out months beforehand.

Plans are developed for reasons — to be used and referred to so everyone is fully prepared when a disaster hits — not to sit on a shelf, never to be looked at until the disaster hits. Preparation takes time and energy, but if it is done properly, it will save time and energy after the disaster when time and organization are crucial.

As officials work to update this plan, hopefully this spring before the June 1 start of hurricane season, let’s hope all the planners take the past year’s experience to heart and make a plan that will work, including developing committees that will help the emergency operations be prepared and organized.

The public needs to be part of the planning as well, so we will have a better informed community that can pull together to successfully recover from a disaster no matter the level.