Ref: Galveston serves as model for emergency preparedness
| 01.19.2007 | 07:01:01 | Views: 2943 | ID:
By HARVEY RICE Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle TOOLS
GALVESTON — As Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas outlined Galveston's disaster plan on CNN while Hurricane Rita menaced the island city in 2005, an official from a national disaster planning organization watched in surprise.
Jim Frierson realized he was listening to a plan that could be a model for cities nationwide. Frierson immediately sent a letter to his boss at the National Council on Readiness & Preparedness saying that he had just found the "embodiment" of a solid city disaster plan.
National Council officials said Thursday that Galveston's disaster plan will be part of a model national plan known as the National Blueprint for Secure Communities. They also presented Thomas the 2007 Best Practices Award for disaster planning.
The city gained attention for the smooth evacuation of its 60,000 people as Hurricane Rita approached in 2005. Officials used public buses to evacuate about 3,200 poor and disabled people. The success earned Thomas numerous television appearances, including on the Today Show and Nightline.
The city's disaster plan also gained notice because it deals with the aftermath of disaster and how to get private business as well as city government back in operation. City Manager Steve LeBlanc helped outline those plans to Frierson and other officials at the National Council's Southwestern Security Summit at the Galveston Island Convention Center.
"If you are prepared for a hurricane, you are, practically, prepared for a terrorist event," said National Council Chairman Jim Gilmore, who presented the award.
LeBlanc said the city begins reminding residents months before hurricane season about safety precautions and evacuation procedures through community meetings, Web sites and public access television.
Key to preparations are the citizen response teams, who identify the elderly, mentally ill, those without vehicles or owners of unreliable vehicles, the homeless and others who may need bus transportation off the island, said Stan Blazyk, mayor-appointed co-chairman of the citizen response teams.
The buses arrived in Huntsville before Hurricane Rita only to find that the shelters were full, LeBlanc said. So now Galveston has an agreement with Austin to provide shelter, he said. The city also has a contract for 35 buses and drivers from Harris County Metro, Thomas said.
LeBlanc sketched the preparations for a hurricane strike that appears imminent: •When a hurricane is 100 hours from landfall, the City Council turns control of the city over to the mayor.
•At 72 hours before landfall, voluntary evacuation is called. Automated telephone messages go out to thousands of islanders.
•At 48 hours before landfall, evacuation is mandatory.
•At 24 hours before landfall, city officials retreat to three shelters: the San Luis Hotel, University of Texas Medical Branch and Moody Gardens.
LeBlanc said Galveston officials visited Biloxi, Miss.; New Orleans and other cities to help refine their plans. They learned that lack of a debris-removal contract was one of the biggest problems, so Galveston now has three such contracts.
The city also has a 90-day reserve in the general fund and all other funds so it can operate after a disaster, he said.
Jeff Sjostrom, president of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership, explained a disaster recovery guide that helps businesses prepare for a disaster and offers advice on how to get back in operation.
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