The question isn’t whether or not Port Aransans ever will have to evacuate in advance of an approaching hurricane.
The question is: When will it happen?
And when it does happen, the National Guardsmen and law enforcement officers manning checkpoints around the Coastal Bend likely aren’t going to let just anyone into town immediately after the storm.
When officials do start allowing traffic to flow back into Port Aransas, some folks likely are going to be admitted before others, and decisions on that kind of thing may not have much to do with who is front of whom in the line of traffic coming back.
Who will be allowed back into town, and when? With Hurricane Irene recently churning up the East Coast, now is a good time to think about what might take place if a hurricane strikes the Coastal Bend this year.
Nueces County and city governments within the county have coordinated to produce parallel plans for how people will be admitted back into their communities. Part of that has meant agreeing on the kinds of IDs and paperwork that people must present for re-entry.
Port Aransas City Hall for many years issued “disaster cards” to Port Aransas residents and property owners with the idea that they could present the cards at checkpoints to show proof that they belong in town and aren’t just showing up to gawk or loot.
But the city stopped issuing disaster cards this year because no other Coastal Bend communities did that, and Port Aransas wanted to make its plans consistent with those of other area towns, said Port Aransas Mayor Keith McMullin.
Now, the plan is for Port Aransas residents and property owners to present a current state-issued driver’s license or government-issued ID card with a Port Aransas address on it, McMullin said.
The same plan is in place for other Nueces County communities – and in communities throughout the Texas coast, for that matter, the mayor said.
People who don’t have identifications like that may present a utility bill such as an electric bill, gas or garbage bill or a water bill to prove that they live here or own property here, McMullin said.
People also could present a mortgage deed, property tax document of “any governmental document which includes an address or other means that identifies the location of their property,” according to a document on the city’s Web site. The document spells out various types of identification that would suffice in the aftermath of a hurricane.
Port Aransans shouldn’t rest easy with the idea that they necessarily will see a hometown law enforcement officer who will recognize their face and let them pass, based on nothing more than personal familiarity. The people manning the checkpoint outside of town – and there might even be more than one checkpoint – likely will be National Guardsmen or law enforcement officials from outside of town.
That’s part of the reason why having utility bills and government-issued IDs with you will be so important when you evacuate and come back.
Local governments up and down the coast have established tiers for determining the order in which people will be allowed back into town.
The first ones to be admitted back are considered to be in tier one. They will be police, firefighters and other emergency personnel involved in search-and-rescue efforts, McMullin said.
In tier two will be people who do damage assessments to check on operations of essential services such as water, power and communications, according to a city document that explains the tier system. Municipal utilities and public works personnel are included in this category, according to the document, which is on the city’s Web site. (The document is at http://www.cityofportaransas.org/pdf/ ATT1_ Tier%20Definition s%20Quick%20Reference. pd fAlso part of tier two will be relief organizations such as the American Red Cross and Texas Salvation Army. In addition, contractors on reserve to clear debris from streets will be part of tier two.
Tier three, the mayor said, will be composed of “folks that might operate hardware stores, banks, local businesses that need to get their infrastructure up to serve the public.”
Other personnel also will be part of tier two, at the discretion of the town’s emergency management director. That’s McMullin. McMullin has appointed Port Aransas Police Chief Scott Burroughs to be the town’s emergency management coordinator.
Tier three will include workers who can restore power, water and wastewater service and other utilities, according to the city’s tier explanation document. Also part of tier three, according to the document, will be:
• Additional relief workers to provide food and other supplies for first responders and people who didn’t evacuate;
• Health care personnel;
• Insurance agents and adjustors;
• Media organizations;
• Merchants who operate businesses that have farreaching impact on recovery, such as grocery stores, fuel providers, pharmacies and banks.
Tier four is residents and business operators not allowed re-entry under tier three.
“The entire intent of the whole thing is, number one, do search and rescue, and get people out of harm’s way,” McMullin said. “And, the next phase is, as quickly as possible, to get the community ready to support day-to-day life and operations.”
There are a lot of reasons the tier system will make for a smoother recovery, McMullin said.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t have utilities – water, sewer and electric – it won’t be a very pleasant place to be,” he said. “We need to make sure it’s safe, that there aren’t power lines down, gas leaks around town, things of that nature.”
The tier system won’t be used unless there is a mandatory evacuation order and a catastrophic storm strikes, McMullin said.
Depending on how conditions play out, the tiers could be admitted back to town gradually or in rapid succession, or more than one could be allowed back at once, Mc- Mullin said.
If a hurricane does relatively minor damage, the general public in tiers three and four might be admitted back to town within hours after the tiers one and two people arrive and do their assessments.
But if a hurricane devastates Port Aransas, leaving many roads blocked and the entire town without electricity and other utilities, it’s going to be a good deal longer before tier four gets in.
In addition to the tier system document, the city’s Web site includes:
- A 19-page Nueces County Hurricane Reentry Plan;
- A form for people who want to request to be included in tier two;
- A document that lists the required credentials that must be carried by government and private individuals involved in hurricane relief;
- A document that explains how some people may obtain exemptions from mandatory evacuation orders. Those people will tend to be essential government personnel and certain private individuals whose occupation means operating in direct support of key infrastructure.
More information on hurricane preparedness and reentry particular to the Coastal Bend can be found at Nueces County government’s Web site at www.co.nueces.tx.us/ emergency.
Questions? Comments? Contact Dan Parker at (361) 749- 5131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.