Stories in Honor of the Dedicated City Management Professionals of Hurricane Harvey

(Stories are edited from conversations with Karen Daly, ICMA Mountain Plains Regional Director and TCMA Life Member)

 Kevin Carruth, City Manager, City of Rockport

The City of Rockport is located where the unprecedented Hurricane Harvey made landfall and received extensive damage. Kevin Carruth serves as its city manager. The City received national media focus and visits from national and state government officials and dignitaries.  Being pulled in all directions and with limited email and phones, Kevin exemplified what being an ultimate city management professional and wonderful family man looks like. Kevin sent his family off before the storm to stay with friends in Central Texas. Although his house did not receive major damage, his family has had to decide whether to put their high school senior in another school system so he can successfully finish his senior year. He noted that although the Rockport ISD is closed indefinitely, the football team continues to practice (because this is Texas after all!).

One of the members of Kevin’s executive team is the public works director, a retired professional from the City of Bryan. The director’s biker friends came from Bryan to help clear brush from the city employees’ houses and property. This was a huge relief to the employees of Rockport who have been busy taking care of the residents. Never one to lose his sense of humor, Kevin couldn’t help but smile that the bikers were camping in the front yard of his director’s home which happens to be in a country club. Adding to that disorderly scene, the rather rigid HOA president lives across the street and has had to look at the impromptu campground every day!

Kevin continues to be overwhelmed at the kindness and generosity of people. The City of Rockport has received donations of goods and equipment from as far away as Wisconsin and Maine. He is thankful that restoration has begun and power is being restored. He has beautifully helped lead the organization and assisted the community through a historic and traumatic event.  Kevin is a great example of a city manager.

 

Charmelle Garrett, City Manager, City of Victoria

Charmelle Garrett is the city manager of the City of Victoria and took charge when Hurricane Harvey hit the City.  Charmelle observed that unlike a lot of other hurricane incidents, there wasn’t much time to get ready and react to Harvey. On Wednesday, it was a tropical storm.  By Thursday, it was a category four hurricane.  The City’s voluntary evacuation turned to mandatory within 24 hours.  Victoria experienced two disasters during the 24 hour timeframe.  First were the high winds of the hurricane knocking out power and trees.  Second was the river flooding that occurred from the massive rains. The City lost power, but within eight days, 95% of the resident’s electricity was restored.

Charmelle knows the importance of good emergency management planning tools and the benefit of tabletop exercises. She believes Victoria’s successful response was the result of quality planning and preparation especially since Victoria operates a joint emergency management center with the county.

Charmelle appreciates the camaraderie in the city management profession and used her professional network to have the City of Austin come to their assistance with crews to restore traffic control signals at 88 intersections. This was critical since Victoria’s major thoroughfares carry 65,000 cars daily with a daytime population over 100,000. She acknowledges the dedication of the city employees. She is proud that all of her employees stood up and took care of their residents even with the damage they experienced to their own homes and property.

With all major incidents in a city, there are going to be detractors. At a time when staff is stretched and stressed, Charmelle likes to use this quote from another sage city manager. “No matter how much you plan for this, keep in mind this is an unprecedented disaster.” Her attitude is that we are going to learn from this and make things better in the future.

 

Frank Baker, City Manager, City of Van Alstyne

Like most Texans on September 25, 2017, Frank Baker was watching the weather reports on Hurricane Harvey. Unlike a typical Texan, Frank is not only the city manager of the City of Van Alstyne, but a first responder in the intricate State of Texas Emergency Response Plan. Frank is certified by the State of Texas to respond to a disaster and assist with staging and/or medical incidents. He wasn’t surprised to receive an email checking his availability for a three to five day deployment in response to Hurricane Harvey. Frank checked his schedule, appointed his police chief as interim city manager, notified the mayor, packed, and went to help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Frank’s first assignment took him to the primary staging area in San Antonio where he waited to be deployed as part of a Medical Incident Strike Team. There were several staging areas in the parking lots at the AT&T Center to assemble all of the assets needed in the Gulf Coast area. From there, units and strike teams were deployed by the State of Texas in an orderly fashion to meet the needs that were being transmitted. Frank had to wait until Tuesday when the waters receded in order to get to NRG Stadium in Houston. After less than five hours of sleep, Frank’s team was deployed north of Houston to assist with 133 nursing home patients who had been evacuated. Frank was in charge of the master list of patients and his team quickly assessed and assigned patients to operating facilities which had availability in East Texas. Patients arrived by military helicopter at Conroe-North Houston Airport and were placed on charter buses, ambulances or an AMBUS (bus outfitted as an ambulance) to facilities which could care for the patient’s specific needs.

Frank’s five-day deployment quickly came to an end and additional first responders were called up. Like most city managers, Frank is a humble public servant but he summed his work up nicely, “Knowing you are putting people in the right spot is rewarding.”

 

Sereniah Breland, City Manager, City of Alvin (edited from excerpt of her journal)

Saturday, August 26 – A bunch of rain comes through and I see a sad palm tree laying in the side yard of city hall. I take a picture of it and tell staff that upon their arrival we need to send a crew out to pick it up. We are safe and sound working an EOC operational shift from 7:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.  Wind and rain blow through, some high water, but our drainage is rocking it, and street flooding is recessing. I take time to see how our most recent detention pond is doing. Perfect as planned. Amazing, the sun is out, people are out and about, but we are watching the weather forecast and sitting on conference calls as the weather service is calling for a lot more rain.

August 27 – It’s 3:00 a.m. and we have about six feet of water on first floor of home (garage) and have kayaks on front patio, ready in case of water departure. My laptop has been moved to the third floor and I’ve set up a satellite EOC (thanks to WebEOC).  I shoot an email to the Alvin Incident Commander; “I am logged into WebEOC from my third floor bathroom. As long as I have internet, I’m kicking out any communication you need me to do. Copy me on all PIO releases. I have earbud in my ear and am connected to phone and laptop.”

Next thing you know, I call in and listen in on a State call on weather and the predictions don’t look good for Dickinson. The bayou now looks like the roaring rapids at Six Flags and boats are even struggling to maneuver. I write the date and time on my second floor window and the phrase “PICK UP.” A small boat arrives and is struggling to stay in one spot next to my balcony railing, believing this was my only option; we crawl over the second floor balcony rail and step into a boat. We waded to City Hall, but I knew it wasn’t a shelter I was looking for, but the EOC, where I volunteered to work. I finished working about eight hours and am going to sleep in a very cold, but dry jail cell.

August 28 – Receive a call from Alvin Police Chief after a weather call. He says, “get out now.” At the same time, Dickinson issues a mandatory evacuation. After working their EOC last night and this am, I recognize that they do not have resources to save, and the bayou is entirely too tumultuous. We go through some high water to enter Alvin, and shortly later, that ingress and egress into Alvin is closed along with the Dickinson ingress and egress. We are safe.

August 29 – Made it back to Alvin City Hall. It looks like we are going to need a new roof on this building. Work EOC.

August 30 – City is moving into recovery mode and we just ate what seems to be our 29th day of donuts. I couldn’t be more proud to work with such a fine team of public servants. Albeit delirious at times, these employees gave selflessly of their time and energy even when many of them lost property and have families depending on them.

August 31 – I continue to work the employee staging area. Almost 20 percent of our employees have suffered damage. I am working on a policy and plan to support them. I know that my attitude and leadership is important. To lighten the mood, we did show proper PPE to wear when performing recovery so they handed me a duck mask. How was I not going to walk like a duck to show the importance of being safe?

September 1 – I am told that water has receded from my house and garage cleanup begins today and tomorrow. After working the lunch shift at the employee staging area, I decide to take a drive. I went through Friendswood to see how they were doing. Everyone seemed to be going back to their normal lives. The mall even had patrons; I’m sure buying all sorts of things, like new shoes. I decide to stop at Cabela’s. Wouldn’t hurt to look around as it may remind me of what all was in my garage. I head to the sale rack for raincoats, knowing that mine was on its last leg. It is at this moment that it all hits. The weight of the situation overcomes me and I tear up. Besides the two employees that completely went out of their way to avoid me, there was a man that offered a tissue. Unknown to me, he was a former EMC and retired Police Chief House that was married to a heavy hitter in the emergency management profession. This conversation was a God-send. The only person to see me have “that moment” completely understood. He shared his similar story from Hurricane Ike. This gave me the boost to go open my garage and start throwing it all away.

September 4 – Got out and drove today to pass out water and snacks in Dickinson. Entire contents of homes line each road, neighborhood after neighborhood. The devastation seems surreal.

September 5 – Back to “normal” city operations and deciphering FEMA regulations.

Now we know that approximately 38 inches fell over Alvin in a 72 hour period, unlike the 15 inches first predicted. We have over 357 properties flooded out, and performed over 250 rescues.  We are thankful for no deaths, and no reported storm related injuries. Now the real works begin for recovery and supporting those that were impacted while working on a plan to get better.

September 7 report – …Our employees were selfless and epitomized public servant leadership. On behalf of this staff, we want to thank our community partners such as AISD, ACC, local churches, volunteers, our council members and donors….