Belton’s EOC gets first real test during flood
Tuesday, 10 April 2012 by Matthew Girard
The heavy rains that rolled through Central Texas last week caused more of its share of concerns for Belton citizens and city officials alike.
Because of the rain, Nolan Creek swelled over its banks and brought memories of the devastating flood of September 2010, where numerous homes and businesses were damaged by the flooding of the creek through Downtown Belton.
This time, Belton was ready.
As rain continued to fall and Nolan Creek began to rise, Belton city officials got a real-time test of their Emergency Operations Center located at the Belton Police Department.
"We did an action report after the last flood and we saw a lot of problems," City Manager Sam Listi said. "It was not a very effective operation. We didn't have any communication equipment and we decided, as a result of that, that we needed to do something different. The decision was made to invest a little bit of money at the Police Department to get a first class EOC set up, so we would be ready for the next time."
During the flood event on March 20, city officals (including Listi, BPD Chief Gene Ellis, BFD Chief Francisco Corona and Interim Fire Chief Bruce Pritchard) met at the EOC around 3 a.m. and began the process of assessing the situation.
"We were pretty nervous about it because we weren't sure how much rain was going to come, but from my standpoint, it seemed to flow a lot better," Listi said. "Having good and adequate communication was important."
Within a matter of minutes, 196 residences and businesses located in the Nolan Creek flood plain were notified of the potential danger through the First Call system and officials were able to direct the appropriate responses to flooded roads and evacuations.
"Even though the flood wasn't quite as bad, we were ready," Listi said.
Because of the 2010 flood, improvements were made to the BPD building for the creation of Belton's own EOC.
An area that used to contain a copy room and conference room was converted into the EOC, equipped with two televisions, a mobile data terminal, wireless capabilities and a specially designed hub (run off of the department's generator system) with ports for telephone access and Internet access.
Cameras were also added to the Police Department's mobile crime scene unit to give those in the EOC a view of what was happening outside.
"It's hard without the ability to see things," Listi said. "We faced that in the 2010 flood where we just couldn't really see what was going on.
"We had the eyes and ears (this time). We didn't feel deficient in terms of the information flow like we had in the past."
Ellis said the Police Department was a natural location for the EOC.
"The radio operations were already in the building and we had some of the infrastructure already in place," Ellis said. "We felt like we could adapt the building."
Ellis said the thought of a local EOC originally came about during the shooting attack at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009.
"We identified the need for an EOC Nov. 5, 2009," Ellis said. "The thought had always been that Belton would just use the EOC at the Bell County Communications Center, but the problem is when a disaster is regional, it's overloaded. For a local response, we had to have our own"
With the investments that have been made, city officials can almost instantaneously send information to people possibly affected by a disaster or emergency.
Although the EOC has proved effective in its first test, Ellis said citizens still have a responsibility to stay informed during a time of disaster or emergency.
"People still have personal responsibility," Ellis said. "People still need to be aware of the weather and take precautionary steps. This is a tool to help us get the word out in case people aren't paying attention, but it doesn't take away from personal responsibility."
Listi said, like the flood of 2010, every event gives the city the opportunity to learn and tweak its procedures.
"The thought has been to have something set up that can meet most of our needs, but every event we can learn something from," Listi said.
City officials encourage citizens to register at www.firstcall.net to be able to receive alerts in the case of an emergency directly from the city.