Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Texas Public Works Response Team

This intersection showcases a public
works disaster: debris, road damage, 
downed traffic signs and power lines, 
and exposed gas, sewer, and water lines.
The Texas Public Works Response Team (PWRT) is a state asset that supports local jurisdictions in their response to a catastrophic incident by providing public works technical assistance to facilitate quick recovery of a community’s critical infrastructure. The operationally-ready response teams are recruited from local jurisdictions and coordinate with other state agencies within Texas. The teams are composed of public works disciplines which function under the Texas Statewide Mutual Aid System and are deployed by the State Operations Center (SOC) under the direction of the Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).

This state-controlled asset provides an “all-hazards” response, a concept applicable in any state. Whether it’s hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, forest fires, ice storms, or tornadoes, the PWRT model works well.

A backhoe places helicopter-delivered
3,000-pound sandbags in order
to stop Rio Grande River floodwaters
from breaching a railroad berm
and flooding the city of LaJoya, TX.
The PWRT was forged utilizing public works resources from local government and the private sector throughout the State of Texas in the aftermath of 2005’s devastating Gulf Coast Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In 2007, the late Jack Colley1, then Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), contacted TEEX with the concept of developing the PWRT.

When the new PWRT activated for the 2008 hurricane season, its inaugural year was literally a trial by storm. The TDEM deployed the PWRT for four storms: Dolly, Edouard, Gustav, and the devastating “graduation exercise,” Ike. After the rollercoaster ride of its “raw recruit” season, the PWRT experienced a well-earned break in 2009. Then it went back into battle in 2010, responding to flooding in the Rio Grande Valley after Hurricane Alex.

After three years and many activations, the PWRT has created a lasting impact in Texas.

In the wake of Hurricane Ike,
a water/wastewater plant lies
submerged under flood waters.
First, PWRT’s members are no longer the new kids on the block, but are seasoned veterans and a valuable asset, which has earned the respect of both those they help and those with whom they work.
Pilar Rodriguez, P.E., McAllen Assistant City Manager/Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator and Hidalgo County PWRT Leader, put it into perspective. After Hurricane Alex, “Texas Task Force 1 [TEEX’s premier Urban Search and Rescue team] and PWRT have actually partnered together and tackled some issues during the Rio Grande flooding, for example. In the response arena, there’s no greater satisfaction than having members from Texas Task Force 1 come up to you and say, ‘Hey, let’s coordinate, let’s work together and let’s make this happen.’”
After Hurricane Alex, Rio Grande
River floodwaters threaten to
breach an 80-year-old irrigation
pump station near Pinetas, TX.

Second, PWRT provides valuable leadership in areas affected by a disaster. Ivan Langford is the Little Elm City Manager and a PWRT Leader whose team responded after Hurricane Ike to Galveston, Beaumont, and Orange County.

Langford explained, “The biggest thing we brought to the table was being able to get things in motion while the leadership of the community was a bit dazed. They could step back and let us step in and assess the damage and get things in motion. If you get in there fast and get things moving for them, then after they’ve had some rest, they’ll pick up the ball and move with it.”

Third, by reducing the time it takes for infrastructure to become operational again, PWRT plays a critical role in mitigating the massive revenue losses jurisdictions face after disaster strikes.

The city of Laredo, TX goes
underwater as the Rio Grande River
floods from torrential rains after
Hurricane Alex.
Pilar Rodriguez explained it this way: “I can’t tell you exactly how much, but I can tell you it was hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue [per day] that my jurisdiction was losing when the city was shut down. PWRT took our initial recovery estimates of weeks and turned them into days. So, that’s the kind of impact that PWRT has.”

Keith Wright, Lufkin Assistant City Manager and leader of a PWRT team that responded during Hurricane Dolly, had some strong final words on the significance of the PWRT concept. “If a state is not looking at trying to utilize the resources of their cities and counties, they’re making a big mistake. If they have any kind of event, whether it’s man-made or natural, and they’re looking at some type of response, they’re going to need all the resources they can get.”
Snapped like a twig, this downed
power pole bears witness to
Hurricane Ike’s devastating force.
The Texas PWRT boasts 180 members formed into 50 response teams from 55 jurisdictions. The assets behind all those numbers represent thousands of people and resources ready to help when disaster strikes.

To learn more about the PWRT, contact Tony Alotto (phone: 800-723-3811, e-mail: itsi@teexmail.tamu.edu) or visit www.teex.org/pwrt.

 This blog is an excerpt of an article by Benson that appeared in the January 2011 APWA Reporter.

1Jack Colley passed away May 16, 2010.

Guy Benson is Advertising Project Coordinator with the Infrastructure Training and Safety Institute, Texas Engineering Extension Service, College Station, Texas.