TSTC announces proposed Fort Bend County campus

17 04 2015

Texas State Technical College (TSTC) this week announced a proposed new campus in Fort Bend County. Officials are awaiting approval by the Texas Legislature of a bill that has already passed the Texas House and would authorize construction of the first 110,000-square-foot building that would become part of what is expected to be a six- to eight-building campus. If the bill passes, classes could begin at TSTC in Fort Bend County as early as fall 2016 and eventually serve the needs of more than 5,000 students.

“Fort Bend County is the sixth fastest growing county in the nation – making this a prime location for expansion,” said TSTC Vice Chancellor and Chief Execution Officer Randall E. Wooten. Fort Bend County citizens, local government officials and industry representatives in the county have voiced their support for the new campus.

The college currently offers career training in Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning Technology, Diesel Equipment Technology and Precision Manufacturing at the Wharton County Junior College Fort Bend Technical Center. Plans are to support additional high-tech, high-paying career fields at the new location including Industrial Systems Technology, Computer Networking & Systems Administration, Cyber Security, Telecommunications and Welding Technology as well as Commercial Truck Driving as a continuing education offering.

This Day in Texas Disaster History – April 16th

16 04 2015

April 16, 1947 – Ammonium Nitrate Explosion, Texas City, TX

The Texas City disaster was an industrial accident that occurred April 16, 1947, in the Port of Texas City. It generally considered the worst industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the port), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (approximately 2,100 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate detonated, with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department; 27 of the 28 members of Texas City’s volunteer fire department and 3 members of the Texas City Heights Volunteer Fire Department who were on the docks near the burning ship were killed.

One firefighter, Fred Dowdy, who had not responded to the initial call, coordinated other firefighters arriving from communities up to 60 miles (100 km) away. Eventually 200 firefighters arrived, from as far away as Los Angeles. Fires resulting from the cataclysmic events were still burning a week after the disaster, and the process of body recovery took nearly a month. All four fire engines of Texas City were twisted and burned hulks.  It is said that one positive result of the Texas City disaster was widespread disaster response planning to help organize plant, local, and regional responses to emergencies.

Hundreds of lawsuits were filed as a result of the disaster.  The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.


Disturbing News on the Hurricane Forecasting Front

15 04 2015

Photo-Hurricane KatrinaSo in my last blog entry, I encouraged taking hurricane preparedness activities for those that live in Fort Bend County; it is that time of the year, June 1st is the official start of the 2015 Hurricane Season.  It is important because the last hurricane strike in our region was back in 2008 when Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston County.

People have become apathetic about hurricane preparedness because they don’t really remember Hurricane Ike; and they don’t remember how bad it really was for many living in our region.  How soon we forget.

Then I turned to my latest issue of Disaster Research News published by the University of Colorado at Boulder. From its April 10th edition, Jolie Breeden provides information on some cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget that will reduce hurricane forecasting capabilities in the future.  I find these cuts disturbing.

Sure, examples of major hurricanes making landfall in the United States are not readily available from recent years— but the threat still exists—- and will continue to exist. Perhaps no major hurricanes will make landfall in the United States this year or next year; but it is simply a matter of time.  It is a question of “when” and not “if.”  And, when the next major hurricane makes landfall in the United States (and hopefully not in the Houston Urban Area), there will be questions about why the hurricane forecasting budget was slashed in 2015.  Here is Breeden’s article:

The Most Unkindest Cut: Hurricane Forecasting Takes a Hit

Jolie Breeden

It’s sometimes wise to stop while ahead, although probably not in the area of improving hurricane forecasts. Still, it seems the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has chosen to do just that with a nearly $10 million cut to its Hurricane Forecasting Improvement Program.

The cut, which represents nearly two-thirds of the program budget, was announced this month during a presentation at the National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. According to presentation materials, the dearth of funds will likely result in a focus on more immediate forecasts (as opposed to 7-day forecasting goals), elimination of global modeling efforts, a reduction in funding to academic partners, and fewer real-time experimental products.

While the magnitude of the cut and the program elements affected are alarming, the National Weather Service’s Chris Vaccaro told Slate the outlook wasn’t entirely bleak.

“It’s important to emphasize that there is still funding for HFIP, work is still being done and advancements will continue to be made,” Vaccaro said, pointing to additional $4 million for super-computing that isn’t included in the cut.

Even so, scientists are concerned that hobbling the successful program—in five years the HFIP has made impressive advancements in both hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts—will have a chilling effect.

“It would be a shame to radically reduce this effort when gains seem to be in reach,” Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center told the Washington Post. “While some improvements in the science of intensity forecasting may be attributed to HFIP over the past several years, more work is needed.”

Others point to the defunding as a myopic solution that will cost the United States more than it saves in the long run.

“Undeniably hurricane track improvement translates to lives and dollars saved,” Marshall Shepherd told Slate. “It is shortsighted to stunt this progress and hinder potential improvement in intensity forecasts. We can’t continue to be a culture that cuts progress, then panics only after a horrific tragedy.”

Lack of recent tragedy is perhaps one reason making the cut more palatable. It’s been nearly ten years since a Category 3 or stronger storm made landfall in the United States. Without the momentum of a recent disaster driving need, it can be hard to secure funding and prove program effectiveness.

Regardless of the will to continue funding at adequate levels, the NOAA budget (skip to page 758 for a quick access) clearly states the impacts of decreased support for the HFIP—coastal communities could experience unnecessary evacuations, NOAA’s reputation among the research community is at risk, and lagging improvement in HFIP models could affect a number of forecasting products.

But most of all, as University Corporation for Atmospheric Research President Tom Bogdan points out in an editorial that champions forecast funding in general, the biggest risks are those that cascade from not making long-term investments in much-needed science.

“The growing ability to forecast the weather plays a significant role in protecting our homeland, our businesses, our infrastructure and most importantly, our families and communities,” he wrote. “We need to continue to ensure that our society is prepared to meet the challenges and dangers of living inside Earth’s dynamic atmosphere.”

Time to Start Thinking About the 2015 Hurricane Season

11 04 2015

jpg-HurricaneGetReadyBelow is a short article by Heather Nolan, NOLA.com, The Time-Picayune.  The article was published on April 9th. The forecast, from a very reputable source, indicates a lower than average hurricane season.  I often get asked by citizens— how bad a hurricane season are we going to have this year?  There is never a totally accurate answer.  All predictions of hurricane activity are estimates—- they cannot be viewed as being precise.  I am glad to hear that the forecast is calling for a “mild season.”  But, one must always remember———— it only takes one hurricane making landfall in our region to turn a “mild season” into an “active season.” So please do two things.  First, read the article below.  Second, start getting ready for the upcoming hurricane season by going to the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management website and review the information posted about preparing for a hurricane.  Here is the link:  http://www.fbcoem.org/go/doc/1528/258151/

Colorado State University climatologists are predicting a lower than average Atlantic hurricane season, with three hurricanes and seven named storms in 2015. They predict one of those three will be a major hurricane – a category 3 or higher.  In a forecast released on April 9th,  climatologists Philip Klotzbach and Bill Gray said the combination of a moderate-strength El Nino and a relatively cool tropical Atlantic would keep hurricane activity low.

According to their forecast, the Colorado State University climatologists’ 2015 predictions are below average compared to a 29-year period between 1981 and 2010.  Hurricane seasons in those years averaged 6 ½ hurricanes, two major hurricanes and 12 named storms.  The 2015 forecast follows a relatively quiet 2014 Atlantic hurricane season that saw only six hurricanes – two of them major – and eight named storms.  It was the second consecutive quiet year for the New Orleans area since 2012, when Hurricane Isaac flooded hundreds of homes across parts of the area. Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to release its 2015 hurricane predictions in May.

Remember—- the 2015 Hurricane Season starts on June 1st!


Texas House Environmental Regulation Committee meeting today to discuss storage of hazardous chemicals

7 04 2015

House Environmental Regulation meets at 8 a.m. with a set of bills up for consideration on the storage and regulation of hazardous chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, the source of the explosion that devastated West two years ago (E1.026).  Of special interest—HB 239, relating to storage of flammable liquids at retail service stations in unincorporated areas and certain municipalities (Springer);  HB 417, relating to information regarding the storage of certain hazardous chemicals (Pickett);  HB 942, relating to the storage of certain hazardous chemicals, transferring enforcement of certain reporting requirements from the Department of State Health Services to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (Kacal);  HB 2470, relating to liability insurance for ammonium nitrate operations (Rodriguez, Eddie); and HB 3810, relating to an alert system of notification of the release of toxic chemicals by a manufacturing facility (Walle).

Exciting Day for Fort Bend Seniors

4 03 2015

FBS logoOne of OEM’s key emergency management partners is having a special day today.  Today Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels will be holding its groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a new 3,600 square foot administrative building—-more about this project is described below in an article from the Fort Bend Herald that was published yesterday.  For many years, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has worked collaboratively with Fort Bend Seniors to deliver emergency preparedness materials to the clients of Fort Bend Seniors.  Fort Bend County Health and Human Services (HHS) is another key player in emergency management in our County and they also work closely with Fort Bend Seniors to help identify those individuals in our community that might need special assistance before or after a disaster.  So, today, staff here at OEM is very happy for Fort Bend Seniors and we look forward to working closely with the agency for many years to come.

Fort Bend Seniors prepares for the future

Here’s a nod to the Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels, which will be holding its groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday to celebrate a major milestone in nonprofit’s history with the renovation and expansion of the Senior Center in the O’Shieles Community Center and the construction of a new 3,600 square-foot administrative building, which will be adjacent to the center.
What’s notable about this $3 million capital endeavor, is that it is a collaborative project between Fort Bend County and Fort Bend Seniors, with major funding provided by the county, Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation, George Foundation, Fred and Mabel Parks Foundation, Gulf Coast Medical Foundation and the FBS board of directors.

To date $2 million has been raised completing Phase I of the campaign, and plans are underway to raise the remaining $1 million by the end of 2016.
Since inception 40 years ago, Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels has served over 3.4 million congregate and home delivered meals to older adults age 60 and over, regardless of income, in Fort Bend and Waller Counties.

Through its efforts, Fort Bend Seniors has helped seniors remain independent by enhancing their quality of life through services and resources.

This project is also an important preemptive measure for the nonprofit. Studies show that within the next 15 or so years the population of senior citizens will double and for the first time in history, people 65 years old and older will outnumber children under five years of age.

The groundbreaking will take place at 10:30 a.m. at the Bud O’Shieles Community Center at 1330 Band Rd. in Rosenberg. Other elements of capital project include: renovation of the Bud O’Shieles Community Center to provide for a library, education and activity rooms, and a care area for seniors with early signs of dementia; and a new kitchen to more efficiently deliver meals. (Published in Fort Bend Herald on Tuesday, March 3, 2015)

Failure Is Not An Option – Albert Darago

18 01 2015

The following article was written by Michael E. Ruane, and published on December 15, 2014 by The Washington Post.  Ruane is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.

Photo credit:  Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

Photo credit: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

In 1944 Battle of the Bulge, Albert Darago, then 19, took on a German tank by himself

Albert Darago had never fired a bazooka before. He was an “ack-ack” guy, a fuse-cutter on a 90mm antiaircraft gun. But on Dec. 19, 1944, the brass was looking for volunteers to go after some German tanks. And Darago said sure.

He was a 19-year-old, color-blind draftee, a native of Baltimore’s Little Italy and a musician who played piano and clarinet. He was no hero, he said.

But when Adolf Hitler launched the massive attack that began World War II’s bloody Battle of the Bulge, he had not reckoned on GIs like Darago.

Seventy years ago, Darago, now 89, crept down a long, open hill with a loaded bazooka, figuring that he was going to die. He peeked over the top of a hedge and, at a distance of a few yards, fired at a German tank, disabling it.

He then scampered back up the hill under heavy fire. “We were in open territory,” he said. “You didn’t need a sharpshooter. Anybody with a gun could have killed us.”

He received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor, after the Medal of Honor.

Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge, so called because of the bulge that the massive surprise German attack made on the Allied lines.

It was a full-scale, last-ditch assault by the German army on Hitler’s western front, five months before the war in Europe ended.

About 19,000 Americans were killed in the wintry, month-long battle, 47,500 were wounded, and 23,000 were captured or were reported missing in action.

German captives walk past a disabled tank as they are led into captivity by U.S. troops, on Jan. 25, 1945, north of Foy, Belgium, in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

German captives walk past a disabled tank as they are led into captivity by U.S. troops, on Jan. 25, 1945, north of Foy, Belgium, in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Tuesday at noon, the Friends of the National World War II Memorial is scheduled to host a wreath-laying at the memorial on the Mall.

Also Tuesday at noon, the National Archives is scheduled to air a 90-minute documentary on the battle in its downtown Washington William G. McGowan Theater.

In addition, the Archives has on display, among other artifacts from the battle, the proud holiday message U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe issued to his 101st Airborne Division troops besieged in the Belgian town of Bastogne on Christmas Eve, 1944.

Last week, “Al” Darago sat in an easy chair in his apartment in Parkeville, Md., with his medal framed on the wall above the piano, and said all he had done was help disrupt the Nazi timetable.

By December 1944, the Allies thought that Nazi Germany was near defeat. Allied armies had surged across France after the D-Day landings that June and had crossed into Germany in some places.

“We thought the war was about over,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial’s board. “We were caught by, I think, almost total surprise.”

On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans attacked with more than 200,000 troops and hundreds of tanks along a 75-mile front through the rugged Ardennes forest in Belgium and Luxembourg.

The area, in part, was patrolled by relatively weak U.S. forces — green troops who had just arrived, and battle-weary soldiers who needed a rest, said National Archives senior curator Bruce Bustard, whose father fought in the battle.

For most of the green troops, “it was the first Christmas they’d been away from home,” said retired Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr., whose father commanded a tank battalion in the battle. “And there they were fighting to liberate Europe.”

As the German army overran U.S. defenses, they were met by pockets of stiff resistance, including some of which had hundreds of African American troops in the then-segregated Army.

The most famous resistance came from the 101st Airborne Division and other units in the Belgian crossroads village of Bastogne. When the Germans called on the beleaguered Americans there to surrender, their commander, McAuliffe, replied, “Nuts!”

But there were other stubborn American outposts, Bustard said, “small groups of U.S. soldiers who are delaying the German advance.”

“Maybe it’s a company,” he said. “Maybe its a squad of U.S. soldiers that held on to a crossroads for an extra 10 or 15 minutes.”

In Darago’s case, it was a guy or two with a bazooka — a shoulder-fired antitank weapon.

He had been part of his artillery gun’s loading team in the mobile 143d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. The gun fired a potent round that resembled a small missile, and it could be used against aircraft, tanks or troops.

American infantrymen of an armored division march on a snow-covered road southeast of Born, Belgium, on Jan. 22, 1945. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

American infantrymen of an armored division march on a snow-covered road southeast of Born, Belgium, on Jan. 22, 1945. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Dec. 19, 1944, his outfit was caught up in the fighting near a Belgian town called Stoumont, north of Bastogne and west of Malmedy, where German soldiers had executed American POWs two days earlier.

“We were coming into Stoumont,” Darago said. “They told us to unload the ammunition . . . and start digging foxholes, because the Germans are right down that hill and [would] be up here pretty soon.’”

As Darago dug and as the ground around was hit by enemy fire, he met a friend, Roland Seamon, then 19, from Shinniston, W.Va.

“He said, ‘Hey, Al, they’re looking for volunteers to go down this hill and knock this tank out. They’ve got a couple tanks down there. We should go down and knock them down,’ ” Darago recalled.

They approached a lieutenant and Durago asked, “What did you have in mind?” The officer explained, and Darago and Seamon volunteered.

They were given bazookas, a weapon Darago said he had never fired before. “I didn’t know the first thing about them,” he said.

The officer advised the two to fire into the tanks’ rear-engine compartment, according to a 1945 article about their deeds in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

The bazookas were loaded, and the pair set off separately, Darago said.

There was no cover, and he headed down the hill under fire, according to his medal citation.

“I knew I was going to get it before I got down there, but God was with me,” he said.

At the bottom of the hill was a hedge. He stuck his weapon over it and spotted, not two but four German tanks backed up by infantry.

“I pulled the trigger,” he said. “And you never heard such a racket and noise when that thing hit. . . . I heard them hollering and screaming.”

He said he didn’t linger and ran back up the hill as German soldiers fired at him.

The lieutenant asked how he had done.

“I got a hit,” Darago said he responded. The officer said, “How about going down and making sure?”

With a reloaded weapon, he crept down the hill again, looked over the hedge and spotted his tank, apparently immobilized. He fired again and got another hit, and this time it caught fire.

Again, he escaped.

Seamon, who Darago said died several years ago, had similar success. Both received the Distinguished Service Cross, with its blue and red ribbon and cross and eagle medallion.

Last week, Darago,who has white hair and hearing aids, sat in the light of a reading lamp with his eyeglasses on a cord around his neck. His wife of 66 years, Dorothea, sat nearby.

“Believe it or not, I didn’t even think about it,” he said of volunteering for the task. “It was something that had to be done and we did it. . . . I never considered myself brave. . . . Somebody had to do it, and I was there.”


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