Never Forget – 9/11/2001

11 09 2015

World Trade Center Memorial Night_Reuters





Fort Bend County Still Among the Fastest-Growing Counties in the United States

29 04 2015

FBC mapThe primary purpose of this blog is to focus on emergency management.  Of course, we want to pay special attention to Fort Bend County and its efforts to provide a safe and secure environment for its citizens and businesses.  The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management coordinates disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities to provide the safe environment noted above.  So, you might ask, why does this blog sometimes feature articles on economic development and population growth?  Because the construction of more housing, the locating of more businesses, and the arrival of new families has a direct effect on emergency management activities in the County.

Our County is now the 10th largest county in Texas having experienced a 57% rate in growth over the last decade. The efforts of our elected officials and the business community in Fort Bend County have caused this expansion which has created more jobs, more tax dollars, and dynamic business centers to create opportunity and diversity like no other place in Texas. Day in and day out, our population of almost 700,00 enjoys a fantastic environment for working and going to school and playing in a County which is the envy of most others, not only in the State of Texas, but in the nation.

On March 26, 2015, The Texas Tribune published an article about the growth of Texas’ population and the clear trend that the suburbs in metropolitan areas are demonstrating the quickest growth.  The article was written by Alexa Ura.  The reporter indicates that three of the State’s counties ranked among the fastest-growing areas in the United States based on recently released demographic information released by the United States Census Bureau.  Ura writes that “Fort Bend County, home to about 652,000 people in 2013, grew by 4.7 percent and ranked as the sixth-fastest-growing county. Southwest of Houston, Fort Bend has been called the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S. because its population comes the closest to having an equal division of the nation’s four major ethnic communities — Asian, black, Hispanic and white. The county comprises several Houston suburbs, including Sugar Land and Richmond.”  Additionally, Lloyd Potter, the State of Texas demographer estimates that “Fort Bend County would eventually outgrow the suburb label given the rate of its population increase.”

However, this creates a challenge—— to paraphrase from familiar scripture—– “though we are blessed in Fort Bend County, much is required to make sure that our beautiful landscapes, historic landmarks, and stable community is not devastated by natural or man-made threats.”  Fort Bend County, through the leadership of County Judge Bob Hebert and the Commissioners Court, recognizes the need to improve the quality of life in our County through economic development, but also the charge to, not only protect the safety of our citizens, but also to instill confidence that Fort Bend citizens can go about raising families, conducting business and living their lives without abnormal fears from those who wish us harm, or the unpredictability of natural disasters.

 





April Showers…………….help the State of Texas Recover from Drought

20 04 2015

hereThe last edition of the Texas Emergency Management Online provides a good summary overview of drought conditions in the State.  We know that the last week or so has caused a tremendous amount of rain in our area, along with some severe weather.  Much of the State has also received a good dose of rain this week.  This is a good thing (of course, not the severe weather part); it helps to fill our lakes and aquifers which are in need of more water.  Information from the Texas Emergency Management Online:

For the past few months, drought conditions around Texas have been a mixed bag. East Texas has seen tremendous recovery, while North Central and Central Texas keep slipping back into severe and exceptional drought conditions. Most reservoirs west of I-35 are still at historic lows. Overall, the state’s current reservoirs are at 68.4 percent full, up four percent from last year.

C’mon, El Niño! Currently, the Climate Prediction Center has issued an El Niño advisory due to conditions in the tropical Pacific. Traditionally, El Nino brings increased moisture to Texas—a welcome relief to much of the state. The National Weather Service is predicting that there is a 50-60 percent chance for El Niño conditions to continue in the Northern Hemisphere until summer 2015. The expected presence of El Niño is causing predictions for above normal rainfall over the next three months for most of Western Texas and some of the central region, where drought is predicted to intensify or persist.





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!

ARE YOU READY??





Ready Bingo

20 07 2014

A project of the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management was noted in the June 2014 issue of the Fort Bend/Katy Business Journal magazine.  The Office recently received an award from the Emergency Management Association of Texas (EMAT); the Community Service Award in conjunction with the Arc of Fort Bend County.  EMAT recognized Fort Bend OEM for a project a public outreach tool; “Ready Bingo.”

Kathy Renfrow, Cheryl SewellReady Bingo is a fun and engaging way to teach emergency preparedness using a picture-driven bingo game. Ready Bingo targets a variety of audiences including seniors, children, persons with limited English language proficiency, and individuals with functional and access needs. The Community Service Award honors those who have provided leadership, guidance, facilities, equipment, or support to an emergency management program, a community, or the profession in the furtherance of mitigation, preparedness, response, or recovery activities in the past calendar year.

The Fort Bend County OEM is very proud that Cheryl Sewell and Kathy Renfrow developed the idea for Ready Bingo project which is now utilized across the Houston metropolitan area.  Inquiries about Ready Bingo have been received from other regions of the country also. This really is a result of great cooperation between Kathy and the folks at Ready Houston. Without that partnership and the close working relationships this idea would not have been implemented as successfully.

The Office is committed to communicating with the public in a timely, accurate, and accessible manner.  In particular, Ready Bingo provides an innovative method for sharing preparedness information with the whole Fort Bend County community.