THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective - Dallas

By Joe Straw
 

How would you characterize your office’s relationship with its federal partners, What would you change, if anything?

 
We work well with FEMA as a matter of fact the regional office Region VI is just about 30 miles away in Denton, Texas, so I often meet up with Tony Russell, who is the director up there, and several of the other staff up there. In fact I had people from the regional office participate in the Super Bowl planning process. So we get along great with our regional folks.
On the national level I participate in the Big City Emergency Managers group, which is composed of officials from the country’s 15 largest cities in population. We meet twice a year and every time we’ve met over the past three years we’ve had senior FEMA people come and speak to us and work with us on programs. In fact one of the things we suggested at the last meeting was that they consider having a FEMA staff person assigned to urban offices for three months or so on a temporary, rotating basis, and they started doing that. They actually assigned a person to the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department and to the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications temporarily, and so that will let them learn more about FEMA, and let FEMA learn more about large urban areas’ emergency management. And hopefully we’ll have one assigned to us next year.

 

Does your office engage the private sector in its mission? If so, how?

 
We do a lot with our nonprofit and business associations out there. Probably once a month we’re asked by a different company to come over and do a tabletop exercise and that sort of thing. So we do a lot of that. We work closely with the health and medical communities, that is the hospitals along with the county health department, and the state health department on everything from pandemic flu to biological defense programs. We have a concentrated effort on working with our nonprofit organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and the North Texas Food Bank, plus we have a public-private partnership with our Downtown Emergency Response Team, or DERT, so we work closely with them on a lot of planning and information sharing.
 

What was the office’s experience with the Super Bowl and other major events, combined with weather events?

 
We’ve actually had three major sporting events in the region in the past year: We had the NBA All-Star Game last year, and it’s turned into the NBA’s version of the Super Bowl. It’s a really weeklong event. They have several major events, and interestingly a whole bunch of people come to town for that game and for those events and parties and things, so I’m not sure the NBA All-Star week wasn’t busier for us than the Super Bowl week was, because the American Airlines Center is here in Dallas, while Cowboys Stadium is in Arlington. It’s kind of interesting. Then we had the World Series, which you don’t get to plan too much for because you don’t know if you’re going to be in it until the last minute. We did use some of the lessons-learned from the All-Star game planning that we did—which was several months worth—for the World Series, and last year we sat down weekly and monthly in different teams and committees getting ready for the Super Bowl. So I think we were really ready for that and when it came, even though we had bad weather, we had extra equipment down here from the state that allowed us to clear the highways, and each city really went hard and strong on working their city streets as well, clearing those up as much as we could. It was a pretty severe storm. We had a lot of ice and all that before the snow hit, so it was kind of complicated, but the actual Super Bowl itself went very well. We didn’t have any terrorism incidents; we didn’t have any major catastrophic events or anything. It just kind of came and went and we were busy, but we got through it fine.
 
When I first came to Dallas I’d been to Houston many, many times and I thought it would be kind of like Houston where it’s pretty much warm all year long. But the Dallas/North Texas area is not that way. It has a full-blown winter every year and it gets cold here pretty much from December until March. It does not snow very much though. As a matter of fact last year during the NBA All-Star week and this year during Super Bowl week were the two biggest snow storms we’ve ever had and so last year it was about 8 inches and this year was about 2 inches but on top of sleet and ice so it was more complicated. But the winter weather is cold here but it’s not really that severe. It’s the spring and summer weather that we get a lot of rain and flooding and tornadoes. Almost every city up here has a citywide siren system where we can notify folks that there’s something bad going on, and we now all have things like reverse 911, which some jurisdictions call CodeRED. Plus, we’re making a concentrated effort to work more closely with the community on citizen preparedness. That’s one thing FEMA is pushing real hard, so we’re working with our local program called knowwhat2do.com, and we do a lot of public education. Finally, we have a pretty significant Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program and we’ve trained over 1,000 people in the last four years and they have individual neighborhood programs. A CERT team will work in that neighborhood if something happens and they work closely with our office and the police and fire departments.
 

What are your office’s major goals going forward?

 
Dealing with the budgets is a concern. It limits our ability to do some things, but we’re going to keep updating our emergency plans. We’re looking at a continuity of operations plan citywide that we’re ready to redevelop and work on closely so that all departments are able to deal with issues in case there’s a pandemic flu or some other catastrophic event hits the city. We’re looking at updating our technology. We have a pretty sophisticated technological ability now. We’ve got a lot of computerized stuff, but we want to be able to take advantage of things like social media. We have a Facebook page but we understand that a lot of cities now are using Twitter and that sort of thing to get out information. We’re going to continue to work hard and heavy with our community folks whether it’s the volunteers who do the CERT program—we have one our employees does it pretty much full time—and we’re really concerned that we work more closely with our business and industry folks on emergency plans and that sort of thing. So our public-private partnership is a high priority for us also. And then finally, I don’t want to leave out that we are always concerned about the health and medical aspect, so we always work closely with the health department and the hospitals and that sort of thing on health and medical issues.

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