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Emergency management coordinator outlines plan of action

By Melissa Crowe
June 17, 2014 at 1:17 a.m.

The Victoria Emergency Operations Center became operational in 2012. The center features a situation room, a communications room and command and policy conference rooms to use for a major event in Victoria County.

Recovery from a hurricane is a gradual process.

With damage estimates reaching well into the billions, it can take more than a decade to close a case and fully recover from a major disaster, said Victoria Emergency Management Coordinator Jeb Lacey.

Nine years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and even 18 months after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, communities are still in the process of rebuilding.

"When you have something that is so disruptive to the core infrastructure in a community, it takes considerable time to recover from it," Lacey said.

From reinstating basic services and utilities to clearing the roads so residents can return home, safety is a primary concern.

Lacey, who was involved in the recovery from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005, is responsible for putting together the pieces of basic daily life.

FIRST 24 HOURS

During the first 24 hours, the goal is to look at what's broken and plan how to fix it, Lacey said.

"We're trying to provide services to ourselves so we can provide services to our citizens," he said.

The primary focus of the first 24 hours is about assessing the situation, trying to develop an operating picture of how the community has been affected and developing a short-term plan for restoring the most critical public services.

"We're thinking about how do we get the people here who will turn the power back on," Lacey said. "We have to make sure the folks who can help us fix what's broken are able to get here."

If a major disaster were to hit the Coastal Bend, Victoria would be in competition with surrounding communities, potentially including Corpus Christi and Houston, for resources.

The city and county own equipment to clear roads and contract with Ash Britt Inc., a Florida-based company, for other recovery services.

Lacey called the competition for resources a "harsh reality," especially in the pre-disaster landfall.

"We have been very careful to make sure the services we depend on from contractors are reliable," Lacey said. "They'll be able to provide the services they've indicated, knowing full well that there will be more need for resources than resources to fill those needs."

24 to 72 HOURS

After the first 24 hours, officials move into recovery mode, Lacey said.

Immediate recovery could last a few days up to several weeks while long-term recovery can last years.

"The immediate recovery is when we're trying to get the community back to normal," Lacey said.

He uses the acronym SWEAT to prioritize services: security, water, energy, access and telecommunications.

Start by restoring security, he said.

With a displaced population and scarce resources, fire protection, law enforcement and medical assistance will be limited. Response times will be impacted by damaged or blocked roads, downed power lines and any number of other factors.

"Our goal is to have our major roads open for emergency vehicles with at least one travel lane," Lacey said.

Water and water infrastructure is also an important aspect, along with maintaining or re-establishing potable water services.

Recovery crews will try to facilitate incoming private-sector partners such as American Electric Power, Victoria Electric Co-op and South Texas Electric Co-op to restore power, which ties in with accessibility and clearing major thoroughfares to bring in resources from the outside.

The local government's responsibility is "focused on supporting the response," Lacey said.

"What are the big things we need to fix that we've identified in that pervious phase?" he said. "Restoring these services, what roads need to be cleared, what do we need to support and lay down for our power partners, who needs to come back to restore adequate medical services?"

72 to 168 HOURS

As people who have evacuated return to their homes, volunteer and donation management kicks in as well as setting up distribution points for water, ice and food.

By this time, officials are planning for the long-term recovery: Getting people back home, back to business and enacting a long-term plan to return to normalcy, Lacey said.

"It's not as simple as turning the lights on and saying, 'Everyone come back,'" Lacey said. "We need to look at how we'll effectively manage the flow of citizens and commercial interest back into the community based on the availability of resources that are restored."

Energy is likely to still be a major hurdle at this point, Lacey said.

Individuals who are not prepared to provide their own energy may want to remain evacuated until adequate services are available, he said.

"It's not just the electricity providers that may have difficulty restoring their services, it is our availability of fuel, acquiring fuel and getting it to the community and distributed," Lacey said.

More than 400 businesses are partnered with Victoria's Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corp. and Office of Emergency Management in the Preparedness Program, in which officials communicate directly with the business community to prepare to get back to work.

This would also be the time when officials look at whether there is a need for temporary housing and develop a plan for facilitating that throughout the community, Lacey said.

In the days after a disaster, curfews could be enacted, and federal assistance could become available.

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