Local Officials Prepare as Hurricane Season Arrives

Friday marks the beginning of hurricane season for the Atlantic coast. Last year's season was relatively tame compared to the chaotic weather of 2005 that saw two major storms affect the Brazos Valley.

The calm of 2006 could not erase memories of the storms of 2005, and the impact it had on the Twin Cities, though the preparation for all emergency events goes year-round.

"We try to take an all-hazards approach to emergency planning, so we try to stay prepared for anything at any time of the year," said Chuck Frazier, who heads up emergency management for Brazos County.

Since Katrina and Rita displaced thousands and replaced them in B-CS, one major change for the future will be a reduction in the amount of shelters. In 2005, nearly 50 were opened to serve evacuees.

"I think the EOC was kind of pulling their hair out trying to figure out how to do all that," Frazier said after reading after-action reports, "so that's really what we want to focus on: fewer, but more capable shelters with Red Cross inclusion."

Coordination with volunteer agencies have been a critical point of emphasis for local emergency officials.

"A couple of years ago, it was more people who were just opening up shelters," said Sharon Zambrzycki, the branch manager of the local American Red Cross. "I would get a call and be told that a shelter was opening up as a Red Cross shelter, and we needed to train them at 2 o'clock. We'll be a little more in the driver seat."

On an annual basis, the Red Cross surveys a number of locations to make sure they are capable of being shelters. The options could increase substantially if the state chooses in the future to close schools in advance of an evacuation.

"There's a possibility that should we have something even approaching Rita, the governor or the state emergency management may look at having these schools available," Zambrzycki said, adding that schools are among the most ideal shelter options because of cafeteria and shower capabilities.

Another major issue on the minds of emergency officials is the future joint operations center. Hopes of having a new facility in place for this hurricane season won't come to fruition as lawyers with Bryan and College Station continue to review plans.

Once it's approved, the cities, county and Texas A&M would pay $58,000 annually to run the state of the art facility, which will be located in the basement of the old Wemberly Building in downtown Bryan. Renovation of the facility would take six to eight months, according to Frazier.

"It's going to put us all in there, and on a daily basis, we're going to be networking with each other and working with each other and working on projects together and brainstorming together," Frazier said.

For this season, though, College Station's EOC will serve as the nerve center for any major incidents.

Another major facet of local officials' preparation is transportation. With Highway 6 in the southern portion of Brazos County under major construction, county leaders are in talks with transportation officials on the best routes in case of a major coastal evacuation.

In the meantime, officials say the best thing you can do is keep your personal supplies stocked at all times.

"Just take care of yourself and your family, and you're going to be so much better off, and we're going to be so much off than if you don't," Frazier said.


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