McMullin one of five Texans tapped
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is paying for the mayor’s week-long, mid-January trip to the National Hurricane Center, located at Florida International University in Miami.
“I’m really, really happy to be going,” McMullin said. “I plan to learn a lot, and I plan to meet some key people at the state and federal levels. Hopefully, I’ll never have to use anything I learn or use any of the contacts I make. But, if a storm comes, it will prove to be invaluable information and relationships established.”
McMullin had to pass two of FEMA’s online hurricane-oriented courses to be eligible for acceptance to the in-person training course at the National Hurricane Center.
The course at the hurricane center provides specialized training designed to help emergency management personnel on the local coastal level better understand hurricanes and make decisions that will protect local populations.
The training will include an in-depth look at hurricane evacuation study analyses, including the latest techniques for developing evacuation plans and information on lessons learned from past evacuations.
McMullin and other attendees will work with HURREVAC, a kind of computer software that helps train emergency management officials make decisions on evacuations and other matters as a hurricane approaches. The software takes into account everything from the number of tourists believed to be in the region to a storm’s location and its track.
Port Aransas City Hall has the HURREVAC software, and McMullin has used it before, but the course in Miami will give him more in-depth training than he has had before, he said.
McMullin’s training at the National Hurricane Center also will involve SLOSH – Sea Lake and Overland Surges From Hurricanes – a computerized model run by the hurricane center to estimate storm surge heights and winds resulting from historical, hypothetical or predicted hurricanes. The model takes into account a hurricane’s pressure, size, forward speed track and winds.
National Hurricane Center staff including the center’s director, Bill Read, and FEMA staff will be on hand to talk with those in the course.
The course will end with an exercise to test and demonstrate all of the lessons taught throughout the class.
At least as important as learning more about hurricane preparedness will be McMullin’s opportunity at the course to meet key players and strengthen existing relationships with hurricane experts and emergency management officials.
“In the event that Port Aransas gets struck by a powerful storm, like so many other communities that we’ve seen in the recent past on the Gulf coast, we’re going to be relying heavily on resources beyond local resources, from the county and state and FEMA, to get life back to normal in Port Aransas,” McMullin said.
“I’m thinking that, after this (course), I’ll be able to put names with faces and have existing relationships with those people I’ll need to contact if that (hurricane) ever happens, as opposed to never having met those people,” the mayor said.
The state constitution says either county judges or mayors may order evacuations. If a mayor and county judge disagree, the county judge’s call trumps that of the mayor. But McMullin said he doesn’t anticipate that kind of problem in Nueces County. He said he bases that opinion partly on how local preparations went when Hurricane Alex was churning across the Gulf of Mexico.
“It was very clear in conversations with (County Judge Loyd) Neal and Mayor (Joe) Adame that everyone is looking to be on the same page, and they don’t want to send mixed messages with regard to Port Aransas,” McMullin said.
Alex at first looked like it might strike the Coastal Bend, but the storm eventually moved into northern Mexico on July 1.
McMullin is particularly excited about his firstever trip to visit the National Hurricane Center, because he has been something of a weather nut ever since he was a kid. He even majored in meteorology for a short time after he first enrolled at Texas A&M University at College Station as a younger man. He later switched to business administration, but the subject of weather has remained a big topic of interest for him.
Michael Kovacs, who served as Port Aransas city manager from 2004 to 2009, can attest to McMullin’s fascination with the weather. Kovacs and McMullin at times tracked hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and plotted together how the city should respond.
“He would track hurricanes on, like, eight different Web sites, and he would get into all the different posts, and he could speak the language of the meteorologists,” Kovacs said. He was really into the storm tracking.”
McMullin said his goal is to make sure Port Aransas is as prepared as possible.
“When there’s an absence of information in a weather crisis, people start to assume and create a story,” the mayor said. “So, it’s my belief that you stay as informed as possible and to offer perhaps even more information (than needed), rather than less. I want to make sure people in Port Aransas are incredibly well-informed on what’s happening in the Gulf, and in the city, as a result.”