Hurricane Harvey 101
By Clinton Wooldridge Edna Police Chief
Wow. We were truly blessed. It could have been so much worse.
Everybody thinks the worst part of a storm is weathering it. But that’s just step one. Recovery is when the hard work starts. If you are a part of a community, like the one we live in, there are other people who are willing to share your burden.
Chris wanted me to talk about some of the issues that came up during and after this storm. Let’s talk about them.
• Evacuations: if the Judge or Mayor orders an evacuation, does a citizen have to comply? No, obviously we can’t go around arresting people for not leaving. We have enough on our plate. Are there consequences for not leaving? Sure.There can be a substantial risk of death or serious injury to yourself and anyone in your family for whom you’ve made the choice to stay.
Police, Fire, and EMS will not respond under certain conditions, so that might be a consequence. Then when first responders can respond your choice to stay might endanger them.
In this particular storm, one of the consequences of staying was suffering through the loss of electricity. Man that stuff is important. I think this storm taught a lot of us that being a line-man can be hard.
Speaking of linemen, I think we need to expand our definition of first responders. Besides the ones we think of, we should also include the electric folks, the gas folks, the road crews, and the public works folks who keep the water and waste water plants going, and any other profession who is sometimes required to come out and place themselves in danger.
• Shelters: if the Judge orders an evacuation the Office of Emergency Management will see to it that you have transportation to a safe shelter. Many people questioned why only the first responders and not the public were allowed to stay at the dome. The answer is long but I’ll try to shorten it. The first responders can’t leave. That’s why they stay.
If an evacuation is ordered the Judge or Mayor obviously didn’t think it was safe to stay in Edna. The dome is in Edna. If you are there during a storm there will be no way to transport you if you need medical care. If the generator goes out you are fixing to get hot, like no windows hot. If the storm is so severe that we lose water and sewer, we are all about to step back over 100 years. If we are forced to hole up for awhile we will have no food. Finally, I doubt the dome could sleep more than 250 people so many people would have to be turned away. The alternative available to the public is you ride in an air-conditioned bus to a nice facility in Comal County with whom our County has an agreement. There you should have none of those problems.
• Curfew: how will it affect you if the Judge or Mayor orders a curfew? Primarily, the curfew is just a tool provided to the officers who are patrolling to prevent looting and other crimes. During this event officers stopped a few people to determine their business. None were cited.
• Looting: man we heard a lot about it. It happened just prior to the storm in another city and throughout the ordeal I heard about it five times, told each time as if it just happened. We heard rumors about it in Edna but, other than one incident Thursday, haven’t received any official reports about it. In the incident today we arrested three adults and detained one juvenile. We expect to receive more reports once everyone returns.
On a side note, there is a special provision in the penal code that enhances certain crimes like assault, burglary, theft, and robbery to the next highest category if the crime happens in an area where an evacuation has been ordered or a declaration of disaster has been made.
• Communication: I’ve come to accept that the public has a new standard of communication from their government. They want it fast and they want it all. The problem is separating the chaff from the wheat. On social media I read a lot of “they” say we are under a boil water notice. Nope, it never happened. “They” say looters are stealing everything not nailed down. Too early to say for sure but we’ve only had the one case reported so far. “They” even said that two Jackson County, Texas people were killed when a tree fell on their vehicle in Louisiana. Again, it didn’t happen. (Thank you, Chris, for calling to ask).
The Police Department has a Facebook page and I try to put out the things that I think are important. Sometimes Chris has to call and remind me that it’s not what I think is important but what the public thinks is important. I know the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Jackson County Office of Emergency Management also have Facebook pages where you will never see “they” say.
Another issue about communication came up when people questioned why some received information and others did not. If you did not receive any of the Reverse 911 telephone messages throughout this storm you should register your phone (land line or wireless, or both) at https://jcso.onthealert.com. If you do not have internet, but have friends who do, ask them to register your phone. It’s free and it doesn’t take long.
Now, back to my comment about community in the first paragraph. I have been impressed and even a little emotionally moved by seeing people live what Jesus called the second greatest Commandment, loving thy neighbor, second only to loving and honoring God. I think the Fire Department started it when they were trying to decide what they could do with some food from the schools that might have gone to waste because of the electrical outage. From there it just grew.
Lots of food was donated. Hot meals, ice, and water were being handed out. Cars were lined the length of three blocks. The people were fun to talk to and were thankful for the small gifts. As a disclaimer, I am not suggesting that I actually did any work. I was just there because my internet was out. But the love that I witnessed was coming from dozens of volunteers working in the Fire House. They worked hard and seemed to love doing it. You could see it in their faces and hear it in their words.
Anyway, I was just a witness.
There are people who are far more qualified to speak about this than I and I hope they do so in this paper today or sometime soon.