The City of Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) is proud to present the 2021 Annual Report.
After nearly a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community was tested again by Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. The emergency response lasted nearly two weeks amid blackouts and water main breaks, leaving residents without electricity or water for days. The concurrent emergency responses, COVID-19 and the winter storm, significantly strained our department and City resources, but I could not be more proud of the dedication and determination of our City staff and community.
In addition to emergencies early in the year, our team provided trainings, community education and spearheaded After Action Reports in order to create a more resilient Austin. Preparedness starts at home and with the launch of our Ready Central Texas app we’re looking forward to connecting more residents with resources and information to lessen the impact of future disasters.
I hope you enjoy the 2021 Annual Report and are as proud as I am of our staff and community.
Juan Ortiz, Director
Homeland Secuity & Emergency Management
Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Crisis Response Continues
Ongoing Pandemic Support
- HSEM provided structure for the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeland Security Emergency Management staff have supported the Emergency Operations Center activation on COVID-19 since February 2020.
- HSEM led the establishment of an alternate care site for COVID-19 at the Austin Convention Center which cared for 215 patients, and established an alternate care site at the Travis County Expo Center to support Omicron surge.
- HSEM established two Regional Infusion Centers at the Southeast Health and Wellness Center and Travis County Expo Center that provided monoclonal antibody treatments to 8030 COVID-19 positive individuals.
- HSEM offered a safe place to isolate and recover from COVID-19 to more than 2,400 people at the Isolation Facility, and approximately 400 people at the Protective Lodges.
Austin-Travis County Winter Storm Uri Response
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, on February 10, 2021, Winter Storm Uri arrived in the Austin area. Austin received more than six inches of snow, nearly an inch of ice from freezing rain, and consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures. Statewide supply chains buckled and, at times, stopped functioning, further complicating the procurement of food and potable water. More than 100 water mains broke, and more than 200 apartment complexes lost water due to private plumbing damage. Some Austinite's were without power for six days followed by a boil water notice for at least another six days.
In response to the storm, HSEM staff led the opening of overnight shelters which served over 1000 community members, and led the effort to obtain and distribute water to the community at pod sites and to critical infrastructure locations. During the power outage, HSEM provided thousands of gallons of fuel for generators to critical infrastructure facilities including medical, industrial, and elder care facilities.
Approximately two weeks later, warmer temperatures returned to the region. The boil water notice was rescinded in stages for residents, then completely lifted on February 23. Power was restored to all households on February 21. As Austinites gradually recovered, the City and County continued operating food and water distribution sites while demobilizing warming centers and overnight shelters. Eventually, the Palmer Events Center closed to residents on February 26, 2021.
A major outcome of Winter Storm Uri was the development of department After Action Reports which included multiple recommendations for disaster response improvement. The HSEM Winter Storm Uri After Action Report: Findings Report identified opportunities for emergency management to better prepare and respond to emergencies. One of the key opportunities identified as part of the After Action Report from Winter Storm Uri was the need to include an equity lens in emergency planning and response.
Additional Winter Storm Uri Outcomes:
- Distributed 120,000 shelf-stable meals.
- Distributed five million bottles of water.
- Responded to nearly 2,500 water main breaks at homes.
- Answered more 911 calls than ever before for five consecutive days.
- Assisted hospitals, long-term care facilities, dialysis centers and other community lifelines remain open to care for the community.
- Sheltered more than 1,000 people in dozens of locations.
- Provided thousands of meals to those sheltered.
- Established a medical shelter to help those who needed power for medical equipment or other medical treatments.
- Sustained COVID-19 operations including the Alternate Care Site, multiple Isolation Facilities and Protective Lodges.
The four phases of emergency management include mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. After an incident, begins the often-long process of financial recovery. In 2021, HSEM finance continued to recover expenses from Hurricane Laura (August 2020) and Winter Storm Uri as well as continuing to track COVID expenses.
Planning and Tabletop Exercises
HSEM led two Emergency Operations Center training courses for 71 students in 2021, and conducted am Extreme Heat Plan review in June, Winter Weather seminar in November and a Winter Weather Tabletop Exercise in December for 134 participants, and the special events exercises outlined further below.
2021 saw an increase in migrants from the Mexico border. HSEM directly supported over 100 migrants that received support services from local agencies. The department led coordination efforts with service providers to support migrants traveling through Austin on their way to their sponsored destination within the US.
Special events began to return in 2021. HSEM supported emergency planning for Austin’s major events including the development of 103 Interoperability Incident Radio Communications Plans covering 288 days of special events.
HSEM provides information about special events to the US Department of Homeland Security. A Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) is used to determine a level of threat for a special event. These ratings provide federal support and funding opportunities at the local level.
HSEM also provides a combination of staffing for special event services including EOC, Incident Command and Public Information. Additionally, tabletop planning exercises to support critical incident response were completed before major special events. Some of the major events supported include:
- MLS at Q2 Stadium
- Formula One
- Moto GP
Warn Central Texas
Developed by the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), Warn Central Texas is a regional emergency notification system with a partnership across 10 counties. The emergency notification system allows local officials to contact specific areas of their communities. Critical alerts regarding natural disasters, severe weather, evacuation notices, bio-terrorism, boil water notices, and more are received by text, phone or email when registered with the system. For more information or to register visit www.warncentraltexas.org
In 2021. registrations for Warn Central Texas, the regional emergency notification system, increased by 15 percent.
Launched Ready Central Texas App on Mobile
HSEM launched an emergency preparedness app called Ready Central Texas to help the community stay up to date and better prepared for emergencies. Sign up for the app by downloading it on Google Play or the App Store.
Launched Accessible Hazard Alert System
In October, HSEM launched the Accessible Hazard Alert System that sends critical emergency information to persons who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, Deaf/Blind or literacy challenged before, during and after a disaster.
AHAS sends accessible alerts to internet and video-capable devices including computers, tablets, cell phones, and wireless Braille Text AHAS to (737) 241-3710 to sign up.
Looking to the Future
The Austin-Travis County area has seen an increase in the frequency and severity of disasters over time. The HSEM Office will move forward with lessons learned from the challenges of 2021 and work to improve the level of preparedness of our community and the City’s disaster response capabilities.