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City strives to be ready for storms

August 17, 2018

The city of Deer Park doesn’t want to ever be caught off guard by a hurricane.

In fact, according to Emergency Services Director Robert Hemminger, procedures and infrastructure for storm preparedness have been in place for years.

“We had a lot of success during (Hurricane Harvey) in that there was just not a lot of flooding,” he said. “But a lot of that success can’t necessarily be attributed to the current folks in the administration, or even in my position, because there have been multiple decades of investment by former administrations, former mayors and councils and former city managers to put in the right infrastructure improvements, particularly when it comes to drainage, to get us where we were during Harvey. They prepared for the worst. If we could prepare the entire city to withstand 52 inches of rain in a day that’s what we would do, but it’s expensive.”

Withstanding Harvey

The city was able to weather Harvey with relatively little damage. Hemminger said that comparing the numbers during Harvey to the numbers during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was a good way to note infrastructure improvements.

“During Tropical Storm Allison, the city of Deer Park had right around 1,000 homes flood,” he said. “In Hurricane Harvey, we had double the rain, but only about 300 homes flooded. That just really showcases the investment the city has made to drainage and retention and the difference it has made.

“Deer Park has a long-standing history of investment in making sure the community is prepared for the worst when it comes to natural disasters,” Hemminger said. “For us, that’s flooding because of our proximity to the Gulf Coast, because we’re on flat land and because we’re not that high above sea level.”

Another facet of that preparation is constant communication with essential staff during the year, and monthly preparedness meetings are scheduled during hurricane season.

Dangerous months

“Storms tend to hit us in August and September, but our plan for the busiest part of the season is the same as the beginning,” Hemminger said. “Be prepared. And that’s our advice to residents as well.”

Hemminger said that families should have a hurricane plan before a storm even forms in the Gulf.

“If you’re house is sturdy and you’re staying, hopefully you already have the window coverings for your house so you’re not standing in line at the hardware store with everyone else,” he said. “Hopefully you have enough supplies to be self-sufficient for three or four days. If you plan on evacuating, you need to know where you’re going. A relatives? A Hotel? If you have pets, can they go with you to the relative’s or the hotel? Those types of things.”

He also stressed the importance of leaving town if a mandatory evacuation were to be called.

“A lot of thought and calculated planning goes into those decisions,” he said. “It’s not only made to make sure you’re safe, but to make sure our emergency personnel will be safe, too. We have to look at whether or not emergency services can get to you during a storm if there were flooding or a fire. We can’t put them as risk as well, so if there’s a mandatory evacuation issued, we hope our residents will follow that evacuation order.”

The city uses the CodeRED system to communicate with residents during emergencies such as severe weather, evacuation or shelter-in-place notices and alerts for missing children.

For more information, visit https://bit.ly/2L5XdAO.

jennifer.bolton@chron.com

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