Texas Gov. Perry Calls for Improvements in State’s Hurricane Preparedness

March 31, 2005

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has recommended that local officials in coastal communities be given clear authority to order evacuations in the case of catastrophic hurricanes and that the state provide financial assistance to improve hurricane evacuation routes.

The recommendations are among 18 contained in the governor’s “Texas Hurricane Preparedness” report, which was released recently. Following a series of devastating hurricanes that struck Florida last year, Perry directed Steve McCraw, director of homeland security for the state, to assess Texas’ ability to respond to catastrophic hurricanes. The report is a result of McCraw’s six-month review of capabilities, needs and local officials’ concerns.

“This reports highlights the great strides Texas has already made in its ability to respond to disasters,” Perry said. “And it also underscores improvements we can make to minimize the potential loss of life in the event a catastrophic hurricane hits the Texas coast. One of the most important steps we can take to save lives is to make sure local officials have clear legal authority to order evacuations.”

The report’s recommendations fall in five key areas: planning; command, control and communications; public awareness; exercise and evaluation; and evacuation route infrastructure.

In addressing improvements that could be made, the report recommends that local officials in coastal communities most likely to be affected by hurricanes adopt a regional approach in planning for and responding to hurricanes.

Because hurricanes affect entire regions and not just one community, first responders, law enforcement and local officials must have a common approach when responding and they must have the necessary equipment to communicate with each other.

One key recommendation in the report – based on concerns expressed by local officials – is legislative changes that will clarify that local officials have the authority to order mandatory evacuations to prevent loss of life in the event of a hurricane.

The report also highlights the need for additional public awareness campaigns prior to hurricane season. In response to those concerns, the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management will conduct exercises on traffic management and hurricane response during June in each of the state’s five hurricane evacuation areas.

The report also notes the need for local officials to develop plans to ensure the evacuation of special needs populations – such as individuals with disabilities, the homeless and the elderly. It also notes that the state “must be able to provide resources in the event of a hurricane evacuation to aid local officials in locating and assisting special needs individuals.”

“The greatest challenge we would face in an urban area in the path of a hurricane is removing to safety Texans with special needs,” Perry said. “This requires careful coordination between the state, local communities and providers of care. The challenge is magnified when you consider the constant fluctuation among populations that are difficult to track, such as the homeless.”

The report lists eight hurricane evacuation route improvements that should be undertaken. In each instance, funding sources for the improvements are identified.

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