Communication and Cooperation: State Agency Leadership During a Natural Disaster
Last Monday, Texas Star Alliance Principals Marshall Coover and Chris Hosek had the pleasure of hosting a policy forum with Chairman Bech Bruun of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), Chairman Christi Craddick of the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), and Chairman Bryan Shaw of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). For over an hour, Marshall moderated a conversation focused on each agency’s experiences during and after Hurricane Harvey. Several common threads developed throughout our discussion.
The first and arguably most prevalent theme was the importance of communication. Most people consider that to mean communication during the storm, but the emphasis the Chairmen put on communication before the storm stood out in a big way.
For example, Chairman Shaw pointed out that one of the TCEQ’s Federal partners intended to stage equipment and supplies in Refugio as the storm was barreling towards the coast. In actuality, Refugio sits at a low elevation relative to the surrounding areas, making it an incompatible location for the equipment staging plan in advance of a storm. However, the TCEQ’s efforts to ensure that it had strong lines of communication across the hierarchy of federal, state, and local first responders averted the possibility of a major loss of emergency response resources.
Similarly, Chairman Craddick explained how safety and environmental protection guided the decision-making process at the RRC. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, RRC inspectors fanned out over the impacted areas, assessing any damage caused by this storm to the oil and gas industry. In addition, communication between her office, other state officials, and the oil and gas industry helped ensure a sufficient supply of gasoline immediately following the storm. Building on lessons learned during Hurricane Ike, gasoline suppliers made sure that tanks were full and trucks were ready to keep gasoline moving after the storm. And, when social media buzz led to frenzied fueling at the pumps, Chairman Craddick was able to work with other state officials to assuage the public’s concerns, and to mitigate any short-term gasoline shortages that resulted.
One of the closing statements rang especially true for Marshall and Chris, both natives of the Texas Coast. The counties experiencing the most prolific destruction will be rebuilding for years to come, which comes with not only a sizable timeframe but also a sizeable price tag. Chairman Bruun of the TWDB discussed the need for flood mitigation plans in these areas and the State’s role in these efforts with local governments.
Overall, our state agencies responded well, and their existing emergency response protocols proved effective. While lessons can be learned after every natural disaster, we can rest assured that the State of Texas is in great hands with our agency leadership. We should always remember that open lines of communication and constructive cooperation across all levels of government are critical elements of emergency response as we repair, rebuild, and reassess.
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