Dallas-Fort Worth learns from the ’05 storms

"The biggest and most prominent thing we did in the past year was hosting about 20,000 evacuees from New Orleans,"said Kenny Shaw, emergency management coordinator for the city of Dallas. "It was real life, instead of just an exercise. We had a real life disaster to respond to without having a disaster here."
Many Metroplex communities began shelter operations. Dallas officials coined the term "mega shelter"to describe its 45-day operation.
"We never envisioned having a mega shelter. We had a shelter plan in the city to use our parks and recreation gymnasiums, but the most we had ever needed it for before was a couple of hundred people in two locations,"he said. "At one point, we had 5,000 people in our convention center and we were prepared to go to 10,000."
The city also used Reunion Arena, another public events facility in Dallas.
"Now we know we can do that,"Shaw said. "It taught us a lot of lessons where we need to improve on communications and evacuation procedures as well as medical operations. We’re trying to take those lessons and put them into place."
Hard-earned knowledge
The city developed acquisition channels for the logistics involved in helping so many people — from cots to blankets — and also instituted better infrastructure for communications.
"We know how to set up radio systems, computers, phones and we’re ready for it the next time it comes up,"Shaw said. "We also learned about organization and implementing an incident command system and how we want that set up."
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport sent some of its Department of Public Safety (DPS) firefighters and paramedics directly to Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans to help deal with the after-effects of the hurricane there, according to Alvy Dodson, DFW DPS director and vice president of public safety.
"There were a lot of lessons learned there in dealing with a huge disaster,"Dodson said. "Our folks saw the devastation and logistical problems and returned with a lot of practical things to consider, whether the disaster is severe weather, terrorism or a criminal event. Our ‘ go’teams helped us plan what to do if this had happened at our airport."
"We learn something new from every disaster and both Rita and Katrina brought challenges we had not faced before,"agreed Juan Ortiz, emergency management coordinator for the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. "We realized the importance of us being ready to support those communities, even though our plans were not specific enough."
The politics involved in coordinating all the government agencies proved one of the biggest challenges for the region — which is the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States.
"We have plans in place and helping everyone understand — even federal and state agencies as well as city officials — that they need to work within that system. We had a few people working outside of the system, calling for their own resources and there would be a truck coming in with aid, but no one to unload it. We learned that if we work through our disaster management process, things go smoother,"said Gregg Dawson, emergency preparedness programs director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
— By Tonie Auer, Dallas, Texas

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