Increasing Severe Weather: How Two Counties Tackle a Growing Problem

Picture of Carolyn Berk By Carolyn Berk

  • SHARE

FloodwaterAt Rave, we have the opportunity to work alongside thousands of jurisdictions, universities, schools, and organizations across the US and Canada to be sure they are leveraging their solutions to the fullest extent possible in order to provide safety and security of the community they serve.

Learning how our customers apply our technology to meet their challenges is one of the most rewarding aspects of being on the Rave team. These discoveries and best practices can be shared across our customer base to benefit communities across the country. 

Montgomery County in Texas and Missoula County in Montana have both been faced with multiple large scale disasters and have outstanding takeaways and lessons learned that can benefit any organization. We recently had the opportunity sit down with representatives from these counties to share their on-the-job discoveries. 

Montgomery County, TX

Missoula County 2

Cynthia Jamieson Andrea Wilson Nick Holloway Ken Parks
Cynthia Jamieson Andrea Wilson Nick Holloway Ken Parks
Planner / Public Information Office Community Relations Manager Projects Coordinator Deputy Director
Montgomery County, TX
Montgomery County, TX Missoula County, MT Missoula County, MT
Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management Emergency Communication District Office of Emergency Management  Office of Emergency Management 

 

Montgomery County, Texas  has a population of approximately 570,000.  The county has a unique 911 structure, with 2 primary public-safety answering points (PSAP), EMS and fire stations with backup systems in the Department of Homeland Security. Emergency management is it's own department under the county judge. Montgomery works closely with their regional partners near the coast because of widespread hurricane issues. 

Law enforcement, homeland security and schools in Montgomery County collaborated to develop a special threat response plan. This kind of collaboration is highly recommended when planning for an emergency. In their plan, Rave Alert is used for the public information officer network, notifications, and planning for information center and media staging area. This plan helps everyone be informed and on the same page when responding to the public during an incident. 

Missoula is the 2nd most populous county in Montana with a growing population of 120,000. The county has 1 PSAP and small but mighty emergency management team of 5. They work closely with National Weather Services and because they are the largest country in the area, neighboring counties look to them for assistance. Missoula is a disaster prone county that faces severe weather events including:

  • Wildfires - Lighting storms caused 3 large fires all over the western part of the state in 2017, requiring towns to evacuate.
  • Flooding - 2018 saw 6 weeks of flooding in the area. More frequent flooding is anticipated in the future because of channel migration. An incident management team has been formed to help.
  • Urban Avalanche - Warning were issued last month, fatal avalanche in 2014
  • Harsh Winters - The area is use to winter weather, unless it is extreme. Heavy snow pack can lead to flooding.

The resilient Missuola community members are use to incidents happening in their backyards and know what emergency alerts look like. Other incidents Missoula prepares are dam failure, communicable diseases concerns, hazardous materials and railroad derailments.

Flooding

The most prominent weather issues Montgomery faces are flooding and hurricanes. 3 inches of rain can cause flooding in suburban areas, so it is important to notify those in the area quickly to avoid harm or drowning. Citizens in flood prone areas need to be alerted when and where they cannot drive because of flooding. Rave Alert helps Cynthia and Andrea get out the message of 'turn around, don't down' to the right citizens quickly. Montgomery County dealt with high floodwaters after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. 

Similar to our friends in Montgomerty, Missoula Country is no stranger to flooding. Recently, the county utilized drones and Collector for ArcGIS to stay up to date and capture information. Having drones fly over neighborhoods to capture information kept the search and rescue team out of danger and gave back real time information. With Collector, they could get the drone data instantly and see what they're seeing, which was very beneficial to Holloway & Parks.

Field observer teams measured high water marks, allowing them to have a historical collection of data they can learn from. This cataloged and stored data at their finger tips helps the emergency management team react to current events, and is used to plan for future events. Both Missoula and Montgomery utilize technology to keep its citizens informed during incidents like flooding. They can warn the public with timely and current information thanks to Rave Alert. 

Access and Functional Needs Population

During severe weather, those with special needs may require extra support. Montgomery county teams up with their regional partners the 2-1-1 program to keep track of those who need help evacuation and if they have transportation. In Texas, there is a statewide program for ranchers and farmers who have special needs during emergencies. If there is a flood or dam break, they need assistance to transport their livestock. Rave Prepare collects their data  so the county knows who has animals that need help being transported in the area effected. 

Missoula also leverages Rave Prepare heavily to make sure people with needs are accounted for during evacuations. The county has partnerships across the community, but there is no statewide register in Montana. Statewide registries can be difficult to keep current, especially when there are no reminders for citizens to keep their information up to date or no one is overlooking and owning the database. Instead, Missoula has a committee that engages with access and functional needs population and highly recommends Smart911. This committee talks to folks directly, asking them to self identify and how they can best serve them during an emergency.  When an incident occurs, the county shares the list of those who've self identified as needing extra help with the sheriff department that implements evacuations. Their goal is to make sure they are protecting everybody they can and have it be seemless from the public's perspective. 

Lessons Learned on the Job:

  •  Practice makes perfect - Montgomery had safety technology in place for a year before they had to use it for the first time during an event. Looking back, they recommend doing practices instead of learning live on the job.  
  • Teamwork makes the dream work -  Emergency management is a collaborate effort. Everyone needs to be a team no matter what is going on during an incident on in their personal lives. 
  • It's a heavy lift - It's all too easy to underestimate how many people and how long emergency management takes. Montana has learned that multi-week incidents require many individuals to keep everything fictional. 
  • Communication -  Communication methods, roles, and relationships should be established ahead of time. 
  • Plan for the worst - What does this event look like if it is still going on in two weeks or a month? It's better to have a plan that you don't needs than to be unprepared. 
  • Public Information is bigger than you think - In 2019, when an incident occurs, the story is going to get out quickly. It is best to get out ahead of it rather than chase down rumors. Know who your partners are out in the field. 

Advice to Other Jurisdictions:

  • Volunteer management -  To avoid getting overwhelmed, have someone outside of your organization have the role of volunteer manager, instead of having someone on the emergency management team wear an additional hat during an already hectic time. 
  • Prepare for FEMA - With FEMA funding comes a lot of paperwork. In order to get a financial package, you need to know what FEMA wants to see. Tracking everything from the beginning makes the process possible instead of looking back to recall details FEMA needs to know.
  • Build relationships - get to know your partners now, before an incident happens. When you build strong relationships with your team, you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish together versus working in silos. Everyone needs to know their role and have a plan for any missing links.
  • Increase public messaging prior to seasonal occurrences - get messaging about flood insurance and winter weather warning out ahead of time so citizens have time to prepare themselves. 
  • Come together -  law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and other emergency management stakeholders should come together to learn how they can support each other and review plans. 

You can view the recorded webinar at any time here. There is also an infographic available that explores the new tools and tactics that emergency managers are adapting. Thank you again to our panelists!

New call-to-action

you may also like

The Latest Bullying in K-12 Statistics

In 2007, Catherine Bradshaw and Anne Sawyer published an article in the School Psychology Review entitled “Bullying and Peer Victimization at School: Perceptual Differences...

read more+
Carolyn Berk

Written by Carolyn Berk

Carolyn Berk is a Content Marketing Specialist at Rave Mobile Safety. She writes about public safety and technology for professionals in state and local government.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR BLOG

Confidentiality Guaranteed 
Your information is never shared.

New Tools for Emergency Management

you may also like

The Latest Bullying in K-12 Statistics

In 2007, Catherine Bradshaw and Anne Sawyer published an article in the School Psychology Review entitled “Bullying and Peer Victimization at School: Perceptual Differences...

read more+

REQUEST MORE INFO

We'd love the opportunity to work with you.

Request