Two pillars for weather safety: Plan and Prepare

Published 9:38 am Monday, July 20, 2015

By Todd Staples

A wet spring gave way to even more rain with late May floods, just as Texas summer hit its stride. Tropical Storm Bill, with its powerful punch of rain and flooding across our state, was an unmistakable signal that hurricane season is very much underway.

We’re just one month into the 2015 hurricane season, and if weather predictions are accurate, we can expect fewer storms this year.

That could be good news, but a below average number of named storms doesn’t mean Texas gets off scot-free. Even smaller tropical storms can pack a wallop, quickly change size or course, and burden Texas with significant flood events, wind damage and other effects that threaten lives, homes and property.

There are twin pillars to “weathering” hurricane season: plan and prepare.

When disaster strikes, it may feel like a given that you can swing into a gas station and fill up before getting out of harm’s way. While gassing up is a smart move, availability of fuel – especially when large populations of Texans move inland at once – is no coincidence.  Access to fuel supplies before, during and after weather emergencies is actually the result of deliberate planning and continual fine-tuning of coordination and procedures.

In fact, ensuring reliable fuel supplies along the state’s evacuation routes and resupplying in the hours and days after a storm hits are critical components to the official disaster preparedness and recovery program in Texas.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Rita, the devastating storm that prompted the creation of the now nationally-renowned, public-private emergency preparedness program in Texas.

The oil and natural gas industry plays a central role in that program, helping to ensure Texans have access to the fuel they need before, during and after a natural disaster. The oil and natural gas industry’s contribution is part of a comprehensive, collaborative effort among private and public sector entities that include the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas ports, FEMA, telecommunications providers, health care facilities, local emergency management officials, and more.

This Task Force on Evacuation, Transportation and Logistics came together in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita and its extensive slate of recommendations have fortified Texas’ hurricane preparedness, response and recovery plans in the years since that fateful landfall.

The operation and people who implement the plan remain vigilant, nimble and ready to deploy whenever weather warrants. Texas’ task force is a living, breathing entity, always evolving with technology and disaster preparation best practices.

History has shown us that it only takes one landfall to make the history books. In 1983, the U.S. saw only four named storms, but one of those storms was Hurricane Alicia, which made landfall near Galveston with 115-mile per hour winds and caused an estimated $3 billion in damage. Or, remember Ike that claimed 100 lives and was the costliest storm to ever hit our state?

But, history has also demonstrated that when the public and private sectors – along with local communities and individual Texans – work together as we do, Texas stands ready.

There’s an old saying that Texas has four seasons: drought, flood, blizzard, and twister, and sometimes they happen all at once.  No matter the hazard, the key to staying safe in weather emergencies is to plan and prepare—something Texas has done and will continue to do well.

Todd Staples is the president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association and former Chair of the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security