Williamson County looks at homeland security as part of our Office of Emergency Management duties. Most recently, the Office of Emergency Management has been involved in the regional planning for mass evacuations. In the event that there is a large evacuation of people from any area of Texas to Central Texas due to a natural or manmade disaster, Williamson County has joined the Texas Shelter Hub System.
In early 2005, the Texas Division of Emergency Management de-veloped the Texas Shelter Hub System to move large numbers of hurricane evacu-ees from the Texas Coast to inland communities. With the capital area designated as one of the hubs, a multicounty plan was developed to meet the requirements of being a sheltering community. The planning group included the city of Austin, Travis and Williamson counties, the Central Texas School Safety Consortium, the American Red Cross of Central Texas, and the surrounding counties within our Capital Area Council of Governments’ 10-county region.
Planning and Reality
Prior to Hurricane Rita (September 2005), our community had not hosted more than 300 evacuees from the Texas coast. When Rita entered the Gulf, our plan was still in draft form, and we were still reeling from the effects of housing 5,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees in the Austin Convention Center. Yet, we housed more than 18,000 evacuees in 53 shelters in Travis and Williamson counties. At one point, we were filling a shelter every 20 minutes; 72 hours later, all but 300 evacuees were headed home.
The Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan
Using the many “lessons learned” from multiple after-action re-ports, our Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan has improved upon organization, operations and communications. The plan currently consists of 88 shelters (high schools and middle schools) in 15 independent school districts in Williamson and Travis counties, plus the Texas School for the Deaf and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. All schools belong to the Central Texas School Safety Consortium, and all were re-surveyed and approved in the spring of 2006. Our current maximum shelter-ing capacity commitment to the state is 25,000 evacuees.
Our general shelters are defined as “hurricane evacuation centers” where evacuees from a projected impact zone can wait out a storm and where the basic necessities of life are ensured, such as safety, shelter and food. A single Medical Special Needs shelter is operated by the city of Austin, with assistance of health and medical personnel from throughout our region.
The Independent School Districts of Hays County have recently joined the Central Texas School Safety Consortium and are looking at being able to participate in the plan in the 2007 hurricane season.
Management of the Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan
A successful sheltering operation requires training, coordination and cooperation between local, state and federal officials. The Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan shelters operate under the Incident Command System, with each shelter’s Unified Command consisting of representatives of the shelter owner (school), Ameri-can Red Cross and local government (see diagram). All personnel working or volun-teering in a shelter must represent one of these organizations.
The plan is managed through Shelter Hub Area Command at the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center.
Shelter Management Team Training
Training of management personnel and volunteers is critical to a successful shelter operation. A Capital Area Shelter Management Team Training Program began in June of 2006 and is designed to give “hands-on” managers the tools that they will need to understand the Shelter Hub System and manage their shelter during a major evacuation. Instructors are leaders from local government, the Central Texas School Safety Consortium, the American Red Cross, and other part-ners who have helped to develop and manage the Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan. In addition, the American Red Cross has developed a hub-specific system to train and manage our spontaneous volunteers.
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