COMMITTEE REVIEWS FLOOD INSURANCE, EVACUATION POLICIES
(AUSTIN) — Officials from the Texas Water Development Board testified Wednesday before the Subcommittee on Flooding and Evacuations on the status of reforms made last session to flood insurance and emergency response policies. According to Wes Birdwell of the Texas Floodplain Management Association, Texas historically ranks in the top three among states for flood damage costs. To address this problem, the 80th Session's Senate Bill 1436 moved administration of the National Flood Insurance Program from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the Texas Water Development Board. This program allows communities to purchase insurance from the government to offset the cost of flood damage. Carolyn Brittin, of the Texas Water Development Board, testified that the September 1st transition went smoothly. Localities have appealed to the TWDB for more training and technical aid for local floodplain administrators. Brittin added that the agency is increasing outreach to non-participating communities in Texas, and since the transfer, 15 more cities have joined the program.
The committee also heard suggestions from local authorities on what they need to ensure a fast and safe evacuation process in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. With Hurricane Rita bearing down on the Texas coast in 2005, the state ordered the largest evacuation in American history. Traffic jams and fuel shortages meant a long, frustrating drive inland for evacuees. Tom Lambert, chief of the Houston Metro Transit Authority, submitted several suggestions Wednesday for improving the coastal evacuation process. He said the state needs a central authority to design a disaster plan, and to coordinate the various local and county emergency services, as well as alternate transportation from private companies, such as bus and taxi services. This authority would also conduct training and drills at the local and county levels. He also recommended a light rail system, used for commuting on normal days, that could add a direct and rapid method for escaping the path of a hurricane.
Rebecca Flores from the Houston Independent School District also testified as to the needs of school districts with respect to disaster evacuation. School districts, with access to facilities and bus pools, are often called on in times of disaster to provide shelter and transportation for evacuees. The state called last session for schools to designate and outfit certain schools as emergency disaster shelters. Flores said her district, the largest in the state, is evaluating which facilities would best serve this purpose. She added, however, that districts need clarification on the liability districts face for loss or damage to facilities and busses. She also recommended provisions to place doctors and nurses at designated shelters.
In addition to Chairman Gallegos, the Subcommittee on Flooding and Evacuations is made up of Houston Senator Dan Patrick and Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols.