It’s taken the City of Austin and Travis County almost six months to finalize a report detailing emergency response to the 2013 Halloween floods: what worked, what needs improvement and what – flat out – did not work.
The report repeatedly highlights communication problems: between agencies, then between first responders, then with the general public. There was no clear channel of communication. There was no awareness about the kind of people who lived in the affected area either: a majority-minority community that does not primarily communicate using English.
Another important challenge for first responders was the city and county's timing in activating the Emergency Operations Center, a central command that should have facilitated relief efforts. Instead, the EOC was activated late, not everyone was notified of its activation, and there was no access to computers because the EOC personnel were not available.
There was no clear understanding of which places could be used as shelters. For instance, animals were sheltered in churches, places not at all fitted for their safety. Shelters did not have a database for collecting clients’ information, and volunteers were not given direction or even protective gear.
Another item that pops-up repeatedly on the report is the absence of notification to the city's Financial Services department. Had this department been notified, the report says, staff could’ve made informed decisions as to how much money was available for relief services, and who needed to be reimbursed.
Overall, the City of Austin’s “to-do” list has more than 100 items on it. Some call for a complete evaluation of procedures.
Then there is clear direction to each department as to how they can improve their emergency response in the future. The reports from those directives are due in November, more than a year after the flood.