Hays County flood report trickles in for major events

By Paige Lambert

Months after two floods left a path of destruction in parts of Hays County, officials on May 2 officially released an after action report chronicling the events. 

Hays County’s report documents what happened during the Memorial Day and Halloween Floods, how the county reacted to them and how it plans to improve after the historic disasters.

Kharley Smith, Hays County Emergency Management coordinator, said the report wasn’t released earlier as more information kept coming in as it was being created. The Halloween flood, which happened five months after the Memorial Day Flood, also delayed the report, she said.

“You never want to have two monumental disasters to compare, but it was a huge benefit to see the improvement between the two,” Smith said. “We also created one report because the recovery was all in one.”

The report was also delayed because Smith had to routinely revise the draft when the county completed proposed recommendations. 

One of those was identifying roles and personnel to operate an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). 

Smith said emergency personnel discussed needed improvements as early as month after the Memorial Day. 

“We were focused on improving, and not just documenting that we improved,” Smith said. “This was really an internal thing.”

The 40-page report breaks down the timeline of each flood, including weather pattern figures, rain totals and river gauge levels. 

The report evaluated the county’s actions when it comes to notification and response, direction and control, incident assessment and resource management categories with 58 points of review.

Many of the responses stated a need to clarify personnel roles, notification systems and communication between management and first responder teams.

“It was the biggest disaster the county has ever seen, so by no means did we have a plan to handle something of this magnitude,” Smith. “At first, it was me calling individuals I knew that could handle certain roles.”

Over the past few months, the county has implemented measures to meet the report’s warning notification recommendations. Numerous rainfall and river gauges have been installed along the Blanco River, which provides real time data. 

Smith said the county will also complete improvements to radio infrastructure over the next couple of months. 

When the Memorial Day flood occurred, the county was in the middle of applying for grants to construct a 700-megahertz (MHz) radio overlay.

“The system is at a higher pitch, so it is harder to get into the Wimberley Valley and other low lying areas,” Smith said. “Now its just a matter of setting the equipment frequencies and installation.”

Those improvements will aid local and county first responders in communicating to their teams and county bases, Smith said.

An additional recommendation was the need for a designated Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Smith said the county has experienced benefits of co-location for the EOC. 

During the Memorial Day flood, the county and the city of San Marcos co-located at the San Marcos Police Department for a communications center. Smith said the improvised center allowed coordinators to double the evacuation area. 

“They have said they wouldn’t have been able to evacuate some areas without hearing about what happened in Wimberley,” Smith said. “It saved lives.”

A designated EOC is now part of the county’s November bond election. The current jail facility would be completely redesigned to fit emergency responder and law enforcement needs during a disaster, Smith said. 

The report also showed ways to improve how the county sets an agenda for continuing improvements, such as continuous training in multiple areas.

Even with all the recommendations, Smith said the county performed at such a high level that other emergency management departments have called for advice.

“Many times our management team has been asked to speak at conferences and that speaks highly of our emergency departments,” Smith said.

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