Storm Prep 2022: How first responders prepare

Emergency Management Coordinator Rick McBrayer shares first responders perspective on storm preparation

VICTORIA, Texas – 25 News Now Digital Content Manager Jennifer Flores spoke with Victoria Emergency Management Coordinator Rick McBrayer about how first responders prepare for a major storm, handle emergencies during a major storm and what it takes to recover after a major storm.

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Rick McBrayer, Victoria Emergency Management Coordinator

What does it take for first responders to prepare for a major storm?

“There is a lot of coordination,” said McBrayer. “Here in the Emergency Operation Center, we do just that. We coordinate all of those various bodies coming together to do their jobs.”

The Emergency Operation Center brings together the police officers, firefighters, public works, public health and public information officers to discuss each agencies’ responsibilities and needs.

“We then bring that all together in one plan that way everyone understands,” said McBrayer.

According to McBrayer, putting together a plan helps public information officers, such as news outlets, to post information to the public on what to expect.

“We want to speak as one unified voice,” said McBrayer. “Many people in our community will see that our postings are regularly updated, whether we are doing a public information piece, PSA, a short video, and the best we can. We are trying to pull those pieces together.”

McBrayer said they start this process early in order to provide the public with enough time to prepare.

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25 News Now Jennifer Flores talks to Rick McBrayer about first responders experiences with storm preparation.

How do first responders know when to notify the public to evacuate?

“Our general rule of thumb is if we see a strong Cat 3 hurricane coming directly at Victoria, or that we know that we are gonna be in that wind load environment for a duration of time, my suggestion is going to be to our elected officials and our command staff that we really probably need to look at doing a mandatory evacuation,” said McBrayer.

McBrayer then discussed an understanding of how Hurricane Harvey affected the Victoria area. With Hurricane Harvey, Victoria prepared for a Category 4 hurricane, which is considered a major storm.

Rockport,  Texas took a major hit from that Harvey. When the storm reached Victoria, it came as a Category 1 hurricane, according to McBrayer.

“I am not dismissing the fact that we didn’t have areas within our community that had down bursts or higher winds or even some tornadic activities that caused those wind loads to go above a Category 1, maybe to a Category 2 hurricane. But in all reality, most of the experience Victoria had was around the 85 to the 86 miles per hour range.”

Although Victoria County prepared for a Category 4 hurricane, it rode out a Category 1 hurricane.

“When we are looking at these wind loads and we are looking at the trajectory of a hurricane and the strength and intensity, we’re gonna try to make some relative, good decisions based off that information and really try to advise people, but we don’t want them to have that false sense of hope.”

At what point do first responders call off emergency responses during a major storm?

According to McBrayer, each department has their own protocol for determining when it is no longer safe to respond to emergency calls.

“The various rule of thumb is, anything after sustained winds of 45 miles per hour or greater is when we try to start ceasing services that are being rendered under that umbrella of emergency services: police, fire, EMS, public works,” said McBrayer.

McBrayer described winds of 45 miles per hour or greater as too dangerous for first responders to perform their jobs safely.

“We don’t want to put people in harms way to go out and try to service people that are already in harms way,” said McBrayer.

McBrayer also shared that certain circumstances may lead to personnel surpassing this rule of thumb, depending on the severity of the emergency and each department’s protocol.

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Victoria City/County Emergency Management

What is the procedure for responding to an emergency during a major storm?

According to McBrayer, each department has their own set of protocols to follow when deciding when to respond to an emergency during a major storm.

County Commissioners will assist with road repairs and clearing debris during and after a major storm, and Public Works will assist with barricading roadways.

“Each one of those is gonna be very department-dependent based upon their best practices and protocols that they use for them to be able to have call for services being rendered.”

For example, the fire and police departments have to consider if a call for service is a priority call during a major storm, such as a hurricane. They also have to consider if there is a life safety issue that they have to go out and perform services.

“It’s kind of one of those things that they have to wait specifically at their department level to say ‘can we actually do this and perform without putting somebody else at jeopardy?'”

McBrayer provided some advice on how to handle an emergency during a major storm

McBrayer encourages the community to be prepared.

“If you, yourself, are prepared, that means you become more resilient, and if you are more resilient, you’re better likely to respond to something in a likely manner that it’s going to lessen the impact on you.”

He also urges all residents to begin looking at the supplies they have to prepare for a major storm. If a resident decides to stay at home during a hurricane and the City has not issued a mandatory evacuation, McBrayer recommends having a shelter-in-place kit ready.

“We have a shelter-in-place kit that we can sustain ourselves for five to seven days,” said McBrayer. “We also have another kit that’s ready to go for an evacuation, so that way we know if we need to leave, we got some money on the side that can get us out of town.”

McBrayer also recommends having a plan to stay with friends or family outside the area of a major storm.

“Being prepared is the key element,” said McBrayer.

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How do major storms play a toll on first responders?

First responders normally perform services to those in the community, including day-in and day-out tasks. McBrayer described performing the tasks as a “love for sharing that service to others.”

He also described feeling “burned out” in certain situations of providing services due to the constant flow of services every day.

“We have to remind ourselves that customer service oriented environment is still there,” said McBrayer. “It’s a daunting task because there are a lot of moving parts.”

During Hurricane Harvey, McBrayer worked for 23 days straight, performing jobs needed. He described the experience as all departments doing their own parts.

“It takes a tool on you,” said McBrayer. “It obviously wears you down a little bit, but for whatever reason we all come back and do it again because it’s just the love of the job.”

What does it take to recover from a major storm?

According to McBrayer, when recovering from a major storm, it is important to bring together all departments and agencies. Within the first couple of hours, they must understand what is damaged out in the community, what infrastructure they have, and what infrastructure is damaged.

Then, they deliver this information to the coordinating bodies, such as utility companies.

First responders also have to care for infrastructures, such as hospitals, schools, banking industries, fire and police stations, and more.

“In those first couple of hours of H+, we are really looking at the fact of what is our damages within our community, and then also what services do we need to actually start performing for the citizens that may have issues during that time.”

McBrayer listed a few emergencies that may take place, such as medical emergencies, fire emergencies, car accidents or standard motorists.

“There are a lot of moving parts quickly happening.”

Days following a major storm, first responders begin recovering. They look at the community to determine who has an unmet need. They also make sure to clear our any debris caused by the storm.

First responders make sure to secure and fix any damages caused by the major storm, such as infrastructure damages.

“Our ultimate goal is to get back to how we were two or three days prior to the event, especially for a hurricane,” said McBrayer.

Make sure to tune in at 6:30 p.m. for the Storm Prep 2022 special. You can watch the special here.