As part of National Hurricane Preparedness Week, May 9-15, we are launching a series of blog posts related to hurricanes, including preparing for them, some of our staff’s experiences with them and some other interesting things we came across during hurricane season last fall. In case you were wondering how TCEQ prepares for a hurricane, here are some of the things the agency does when a storm is approaching:
Even before a storm hits, TCEQ is preparing to deploy its air monitoring vans and mobile command post to respond to the hurricane’s impact. However, because we don’t want staff in harm’s way, these resources are not deployed until it is safe to do so.
In preparation of a hurricane, TCEQ stands ready to enact emergency response plans for air quality monitoring, safe drinking water, critical water infrastructure, wastewater and sewage, and flood water.
During emergency situations, TCEQ provides strategic state assets to support state and local operations and assists its regulated facilities to continue to provide essential services to the public.
Following a storm, TCEQ’s Mobile Command Post and Emergency Management Support Team provide support to the storm affected areas when needed.
Air Quality Monitoring
When it is safe to do so, TCEQ deploys its mobile monitoring vans, equipped with rapid assessment survey technology that reports air quality data in real-time, as well as various types of handheld air monitoring equipment. TCEQ may also request EPA’s ASPECT aircraft and TAGA mobile laboratory.
The agency’s stationary air monitors, which are not designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, are secured and are redeployed when the threat has passed. It is TCEQ’s policy to protect its assets against loss or damage by securing them or moving them away from the storm’s potential path to protect Texas’ significant financial investment and ensure that they are available to support response efforts in areas impacted by the hurricane once the threat has diminished.
TCEQ’s Air Monitoring webpage keeps a running list of stations that are offline and updates the list as stations are brought back online.
Air monitoring assesses impacts to human health and the environment from hazardous material spills and releases or ensure that such activities are being properly conducted by the responsible party. If a threat posed by air quality requires a public response, such as sheltering in place, those orders are issued by local government leaders or the local emergency response authority (i.e. fire department, office of emergency management).
To ensure safe drinking water before, during and after a hurricane, TCEQ’s Office of Water contacts public water system operators to provide hurricane preparedness guidance, instructions on issuing a boil water notice and resources for assistance. Following the event, staff makes assessment calls to get operational statuses of public water systems. If necessary, TCEQ deploys staff to assist operators in restoring the system to normal operating conditions as quickly and safely as possible.
Critical Water Infrastructure
TCEQ’s Critical Infrastructure Division monitors the projected path of the hurricane and prepares to assist dam owners with damage or failures. After the storm passes, TCEQ contacts dam owners to assess any issues that could result in downstream damage or loss of life.
Wastewater and Sewage
TCEQ contacts wastewater treatment plants to provide technical guidance and support in response to damage and flooding. The agency actively monitors any facilities who report spills as a result of Hurricane Laura and continue to reach out to facilities in flood-impacted areas. Should the need arise, TCEQ will coordinate with other state resources to deploy assistance teams to work directly with system operators to expedite getting systems back to operational status.
Floodwaters contain many hazards, including bacteria and other contaminants. Precautions should be taken by anyone involved in cleanup activities or any others who may be exposed to flood waters. These precautions include heeding all warnings from local and state authorities regarding safety advisories. In addition to the drowning hazards of wading, swimming, or driving in swift floodwaters, these waters can carry large objects that are not always readily visible that can cause injuries to those in the water. Other potential hazards include downed power lines and possible injuries inflicted by animals displaced by the floodwaters.
The TCEQ ensures state Superfund sites in the projected path of a hurricane are secured. Sites in affected areas are assessed once re-entry is possible. TCEQ coordinates with the US EPA on federal Superfund sites.
If TCEQ regional offices are in areas expected to be affected, TCEQ backs up computer servers and reroutes phone lines from those offices to ensure uninterrupted agency support.
Anyone with specific concerns about an emission source or potentially unhealthy air quality in the aftermath of a hurricane may contact TCEQ at 1-888-777-3186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.