By Emily Banks Wooten
Polk County’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) recently hosted its 5th annual Hurricane Party in which county and city officials, law enforcement agencies, first responders and others gathered at the Dunbar Gym to review the 2022 hurricane forecast and the Polk County response plan and to learn about the Individual State of Texas Damage Assessment Tool (iSTAT) and the Public State of Texas Damage Assessment Tool (pSTAT).
“We’ve definitely recognized that it requires a full team effort and I want to thank everyone for their continuous dedication. We want to maintain open and clear communications as possible,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said.
Dan Reilly, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service Houston/Galveston Office, was in attendance and kicked things off.
“It’s always great to come to this event. We really want to keep you informed of what’s happening. We think of June 1 as the beginning of hurricane season but in recent years we have had several storms develop in May before June 1. There’s a very slow, gradual buildup in May, June, July and then it quickly ramps up in August, with the most active period being mid-August through mid-October.
For Texas, storms are rare after Oct. 1,” Reilly said.
“In Polk County we don’t have storm surges. In Polk County we have to worry about water-related hazards that cause about 50% of fatalities and non-weather hazards such as carbon monoxide poisonings. With these type of storms, you tend to have more physical and mental stress leading to heart attacks and such,” Reilly said.
Reviewing the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, Reilly said there is a 65% chance of above-normal activity, a 25% chance of near-normal activity and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.
Polk County Emergency Management Coordinator Courtney Comstock shared the county’s response plan, reviewing the countdown to landfall which are the itemized steps that will be taken five days prior, all the way up to landfall and then on to three days post landfall.
Comstock said the response locations will include the emergency operations center (EOC), shelters, points-of-distribution, field (first responders/damage assessment team), Center of Hope (disaster donations and spontaneous volunteer management) and resource staging areas. Once open, the EOC will operate daily until deactivation with two daily operational periods – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. unless circumstances dictate otherwise.
The first two shelters the county will open will be the Dunbar Gym and the Polk County Commerce Center. Schools will be the last resort so as not to interrupt them, Comstock said.
Primary points-of-distribution (Pods) will be the Precinct 1 Road and Bridge office, the Onalaska High School, the Corrigan High School and the VF Outlet parking lot. Secondary Pods will be located at Goodrich ISD, Onalaska VFD Station 51, Big Sandy High School and South Polk County VFD.
Comstock said her office will distribute emergency public information via: AlertMePolkCounty, Polk County OEM Facebook page and Polk County, Texas Facebook page, Polk County, Texas and OEM websites, local radio stations (KETX, KDOL and KSBJ), the Polk County Enterprise’s newspaper, website and Facebook page, the Pineywoods Express and PolkCountyToday.com.
Comstock said the following volunteers will be needed: English and Spanish speaking operators to answer the phones in the EOC); shelter managers to oversee the operation of a shelter; shelter workers - volunteers who will be trained to assist the county shelter managers. Duties may include tracking shelter occupants, keeping records of meals served, tracking supplies requested, received and expended through the EOC and assisting in welfare inquiries; people available to work at the Pods to distribute MREs, water, ice and commodities to the public; and Center of Hope helpers - English and Spanish speaking volunteers to assist with donations intake and sorting. Helpers may assist in tracking donations, record volunteer time, and other activities required by the Center of Hope. Those interested in volunteering as a shelter manager or associate are encouraged to contact the OEM and they will have the American Red Cross contact you regarding training.
Polk County Veterans Service Office Melissa Gates serves as the county liaison for Polk County Recovers, a long-term recovery group that is a cooperative body that is made up of representatives and volunteers from faith-based, non-profit, government, business and other organizations working within a community to assist individuals and families in their recovery after a disaster such as hurricanes or tornados.
One of its main is to assist individuals and families with long-term recovery following a natural or man-made disaster by determining their unmet needs through a case management program and working to obtain the resources necessary to meet those needs while avoiding duplication of services.
Gates said what Polk County Recovers needs is money, manpower and materials – funding required to meet the needs of the impacted community, people power that gets the hard work done including repairing and rebuilding homes, and the tangible things that disaster-impacted people need so they can get back into their homes.
Jon Clingaman, the coordinator of TDEM’s District 14 which includes Polk County, reviewed the sequence of events, specifically, the purpose of rapid damage assessment and self-damage reporting.
“The primary objective of the rapid damage assessments (RDA) and self-damage assessments (SDA) is to help disaster-impacted local governments and the State of Texas capture the scale and scope of the disaster,” Clingaman said.
“Later in the process, the same data will be used to determine whether the impacts of a disaster warrant a presidential disaster declaration. Presidential disaster declarations specify whether jurisdictions are eligible for FEMA disaster assistance and what types of assistance are available,” Clingaman said.
“There are four categories of damage. Affected is a home that is considered affected if the damage to the home is mostly cosmetic.
Minor is a home with repairable non-structural damage. Major is a home with structural damage or other significant damage that requires extensive repairs. Destroyed is if the home is a total loss,” Clingaman said.