Preparing your family and your home for natural disasters: Hurricane Harvey Evacuation
Hurricane Harvey hit South Texas in August 2017. As a Category 4 hurricane, Harvey was powerful and dangerous. My sister just gave birth to my goddaughter the previous month, so she was just four weeks old when the hurricane hit. Flood waters were rising fast and all of the hospitals in the surrounding area were closed and/or evacuated. If something went wrong, they had zero options.
It was approximately 0300 here in Virginia when we got the call from my mom: "You need to get your sister and your goddaughter out of there. They are in danger."
My wife and I went into our own domestic version of an immediate action drill. We grabbed our go-bags and made a phone call because we knew we would need backup. The first phone call went to my brother. Before we could make the second call, as if via ESP itself, one of my best friends who spent his Navy career running VBSS with small boats - experience we felt might be handy in this situation - called me. Game on.
This was not my first natural disaster. I spent almost eight years as a sworn law enforcement officer in Southern California. During that time, I participated in callouts ranging from wildfires to manhunts and almost everything in between. Despite, this experience with natural disasters like wildfires, we barely got rain in Southern California, let alone hurricanes.
Along the way, I took some notes for our AAR (After Action Report). Here they are in raw, un-edited format. If you aren't familiar with an AAR, these notes are basically the lessons learned for future use:
- CCWs are mandatory
- Radios for every person ahead of time
- Maritime radio ideal
- Dedicated med bags
- Headlamps mounted on helmets
- Portable PFDs
- Preposition batteries, pants, l/s shirt, shorts
- Solar panel charger kit?
- HiVis in go bags
- Alternative Go Bags that can fly as carry-ons
- Augment with checked go-bags
- Deployable dry bags
- Space efficient water bottles needed, bottled water takes up too much room
- WalMart is the real FEMA
- Space constraints are real
- Can’t pick your rental vehicle
- Moving flats of bottled water is a pain in the ass, takes up too much space in vehicles, can’t be used hands free. See previous.
Below is the story of how we got my sister and her family out of Houston and the devastation left behind by Hurricane Harvey, told photographically.
Above: my sister sent me this picture of the Texas National Guard staging outside of Houston to affect rescues of citizens stranded by Hurricane Harvey the day before we went wheels up from Virginia.
Above: an image of the rising flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in front of my sisters home outside of Houston, TX. I believe this picture was taken just before we left for the airport.
Above: we had to fly into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and then drive down to Austin in order to rent the pick-up trucks (the last two at the airport) we would need to get my sister and her newborn baby out of Houston.
Above: Texans are a prepared and capable people, as evidenced by the vehicle choices made by some locals to help their fellow citizens in a time of need. We took this picture as we were exiting Highway 290 and beginning to make our way to my sisters house via side streets.
Above: our first encounter with flood waters. Just before this picture was taken, we watched a regular sedan float down this very road. This was a perplexing sight to behold: why would anyone want to attempt to traverse these waters in a regular sedan? It was hard enough in full size, four-wheel drive trucks.
Above: my sister took this picture from the second story of her neighbors house. They had to evacuate their single story home because the flood waters were rising quickly. This picture is deceptive because they took it during a brief respite in the storm. Rain resumed shortly after this picture was taken and the water began rising again.
Above: me meeting my goddaughter for the first time at our hotel in Austin. This moment made the whole trip worth it.
There are so many takeaways from this trip that we did. First off, you need friends that you can call whom you know will be willing to drop whatever to help out; next, those friends MUST have knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to add, as well as the requisite gear—staged and ready to roll. We all had this covered down. The speed at which we linked up, formulated a quick plan (SMEAC) and executed was pretty impressive. The last bit was the hardest—encountering situations of ambiguous safety / legalities and deciding what to do. You need decisive people who trust their guts for this. We could arguably have been arrested for bypassing a National Guard roadblock, but the alternative was getting stuck on the peninsula with rising flood waters. Better to be judged by 12 in that case than be carried by six along with the death of a newborn on your conscience.
Finally, a side note. Unlike New Orleans, Texas decided to streamline the integration of the “Cajun Navy” into their overall emergency management plan. They set up rally points for the Cajuns to meet up with EM personnel, assigned one of their guys and radios to the Cajuns to coordinate, and continuously broadcast over the radio where the rally points were. This was brilliant command and control, and ensured that everyone was gassed and geared up with proper maps and comms, and full accountability so that if someone went missing help would be on the way.
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