Friday, August 31, 2018

Hurricane Harvey

One year ago today, I was into my seventh of 23 straight 12-hour days. I served as the WebEOC communications desk for the Texas State Guard Emergency Operations Center (TEOC). My primary duty was recording to the Position Log every communication I could capture from the operators at three other desks. I also maintained the posted schedule of events (Battle Rhythm). In addition, I answered phones for the Battle NCOIC and the Battle Captain if they were away from their desks. 
Three weeks in and we still looked good.
Easy enough when you are getting fed and
are not waist deep in waste water.
Following the Incident Command Structure (ICS) defined by FEMA, I sat between the operations section and the planning section. Although internally our administrative control was military, we were operationally and tactically serving in response to civil authority.

Nothing happened until and unless a State of Texas Assistance Request (STAR) was filed, approved, and issued. STARs begin with civilian authorities in need of resources. They call the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) State Emergency Operation Center (SOC). If approved, the STAR is passed to a responding agency with authorization.

Texas Maritime Regiment handled water-borne
search-and-rescue and search-and-recovery
The Texas State Guard has three primary missions: evacuating people; staffing shelters; and searching for those in need of rescue or those to be recovered. In addition, we are all trained to be WebEOC operators in order to maintain communications across operations. In reality, that works at the higher echelons of decision making, not in the field.
The Emergency Transportation Network evacuated people
who could not leave the strike zones on their own.
We were awed by the flows of material support from individuals and ad hoc groups. A local Starbucks manager took it upon herself to bring breakfast to the TEOC for days and days. Day after day local restaurants sent over BBQ and soft drinks. 

It was relatively easy to be in the command center. My stresses were from empathy and sympathy as our people in the field used up their rations and their pocket money. The TXSG traditionally is prepared to take care of itself for 72 hours. On the fourth day, our squads, teams, and platoons were in situations no one had planned for. In the three annual hurricane drills I had participated in, the scenario played itself out in 120 hours. Twelve days into Hurricane Harvey, people were ready to go home. Thirty days into Harvey, FEMA declared the emergency over. After 30 days, you no longer have an emergency: you have a state of affairs.
The Israeli Defence Force sent a liaison to find out
how we handle mass emergencies.
Working 12 hours a day does not mean sleeping 12 hours a night. You arrive for shift change briefings and you stay for shift change briefings. You get five hours of sleep, sometimes three. Very soon the rhythm seems natural. So does the intensity of focus. Every fact has to be a necessary truth because every decision matters to someone in a shelter or in a boat who will reap the consequences of your choices. 

AFK: Hurricane Harvey

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