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Thompson testifies on Ike response
Polk County Enterprise - November 2008
LIVINGSTON – Polk County Judge John Thompson testifi ed before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee regarding the county’s and region’s experiences during Hurricane Ike. As coordinator of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC), Thompson was invited to share his perceptions of the regional, state and federal handling of the disaster. Without exception, Thompson had praise for every level of government, but that praise was tempered with constructive criticism of the following areas: • Communication – the DETCOG MACC felt that the counties lying between coastal evacuating counties and sheltering counties were overlooked in state conference calls and that consideration should be given to regional conferencing between councils of government and MACCs. Thompson also stressed that communication could be improved with automated notifi cation systems for targeted groups like medical responders, city and county offi cials and public utilities, for example. • Evacuation – Thompson used the U.S. Hwy 59 Rest Area as an example of poor procedural implementation in that once portable toilets, potable water and medical services were assigned to the area they could not be reassigned to more heavily used routes. While the 211 program is good, it should be regularly updated and there should be more public education for its use in a disaster, said Thompson. There should also be a method of prioritizing and triaging those with special medical needs. • Sheltering – Although the majority of counties in the DETCOG-MACC region are “pass through” counties, the sheltering of residents and non-residents should be taken into consideration as the American Red Cross was unable to open an shelters until days after the hurricane. • State personnel assignments – Consideration should be given to local input in duty assignments for non-local personnel. County and city officials should help in determining where to best utilize non-local personnel based on knowledge of the local resources and needs of the area. • DDC and RSA – The District Disaster Council and the Resource Staging Area, both located in Lufkin, could benefit from input from the MACC regarding the distribution of resources. Further regionalization of the resource staging would be better than the current centralized staging in San Antonio. There were several instances of resources to be redeployed from one county to another returning to San Antonio before being sent out again. • Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) – These resources were utilized for the first time in the East Texas region and their self-sufficiency is their biggest advantage. They come in ready to work and with all the resources. Thompson said that the role of VOAD should be expanded throughout the state. • Required documentation – The amount of paperwork required to be completed increased tremendously from Hurricane Rita to Hurricane Ike but the level of feedback regarding those requests was minimal. Development of an electronic system for tracking requests, updating and revising them should be implemented, said Thompson. • Regional coordination – The success of the DETCOG-MACC should be further supported with increased funding and consideration should be given to the realignment of certain state regions in coordination with disaster functions. In addition to these points, Thompson encouraged lawmakers to establish minimum requirements for generator and fuel supplies for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, Municipal Utility Districts (MUD), water and sewer utility providers. A system of annual reporting should also be implemented. These reports and proposals were derived from after-action meetings held by Polk County and DETCOG following Hurricane Ike. According to a report from Thompson, the general tone of those follow up meetings was that things went amazingly well and that no major structural changes of the existing system are needed.