Grayson County Commissioners discussed what resources the area can send to help out flooding victims in South Texas and how and when those resources will be sent on Tuesday. Grayson County Office of Emergency Management Director Sarah Somers said local people want to help and this area has a history of helping out in these kinds of disasters.
Somers, who serves on the Texas Emergency Management Advisory Committee, will hold a meeting at 9 a.m. on Thursday in the Assembly Room at the Grayson County Courthouse of Emergency Management for people, leaders in the faith-based community and leaders of area nonprofits.
“We are going to put our heads together and look at the needs that are being communicated to us through the system and see what best way Grayson County can assist through any kind of hurricane relief effort, looking very closely to what the locals in those areas are saying they prefer,” Somers said.
Somers said she has fielded a lot of telephone calls about how people in this area can best help struggling Texans down south.
“The state of Texas has a coordinated network,” she said. “We have a law for mutual aide so that we can all go and help each other, not just within the state of Texas, but there is an emergency assistance compact across multiple states. That’s all embedded in our law.”
Somers said those locals who helped shelter and serve people from the hurricanes of 2005 learned some valuable lessons that they are trying to put to work now.
“We now know how to work the system and the system is much more robust now,” she said.
Somers also cautioned that people will see things on the news that show people who are not getting immediate assistance because responders are still in emergency mode and everyone’s resources are overwhelmed.
“That is why all of the assistance is coming from other states and from across our state and hopefully in an orderly fashion, so that when we do provide help, we don’t use resources to deploy, but bring ourselves in a self-sufficient capacity,” Somers said.
She said Grayson has been working very closely with other counties — Cooke County in particular — to look at what assets are here and what can be deployed. She said while that is done, the county has to make sure it keeps enough assets here to handle this area over the Labor Day weekend.
Which local people are already there
Denison Fire Department Emergency Management Coordinator Morgan Metcalf said crews got the call to head south on Monday evening and were on the road hours later. Metcalf said six members of the department were sent to the Houston area, along with two of its rescue boats.
“Our guys haven’t been deployed yet so we don’t know for sure what they’ll end up doing, but it’s likely that they’ll assist with the recovery efforts through search and rescue,” Metcalf said. “We know there are people who’ve been forced up onto the roof of their homes, so it’s possible our guys could be involved in some high water rescues in low-lying areas, where people have really been hit hard.”
Somers said they are keeping an eye on local needs and the fact that Gainesville’s and Denison’s crews have already been sent, which leaves the whole area with one team left — the Sherman team.
“When I see criticisms on social media about ‘why didn’t somebody go?’ — there is a system,” Somers said.
She explained that assets through the Texas Interstate Mutual Aid are being called up in an orderly fashion and it is the responsibility of those responders to be ready when called, rather than rushing down on their own.
“People will get tired, teams will have to come back, and we want to make sure that we are sending our folks down into a situation where they’ll be safe,” Somers said.
Somers said one of the things learned in 2005 is how ready to give this community is when it comes to a disaster like this.
“We have a strong faith-based community, many of whom are already involved in relief efforts,” she said.
The local Red Cross is helping with sheltering efforts in the Dallas area and the Salvation Army has sent a team to the affected area.
“We have responders who have trained and are part of teams that have already been called up,” Somers said.
One of those is the Van Alstyne City Manager Frank Baker, who is trained as an ambulance staging manager. Another example, she said, is Pottsboro Fire Chief Donnie Glenn, formerly of Sherman Fire-Rescue, who is at a mobile medical unit in south Texas, as is his wife Donna Glenn, Texoma Medical Center’s director of infection, prevention and emergency preparedness.
“Some of the hidden heroes (are) the 211 operators at the Texoma Council of Government, (who) are answering calls right this minute to assist and direct people to shelters,” Somers said.
Why there isn’t a shelter open in Grayson County
There is, Somers said, a report that people can read which will help them understand what is needed where and where it is being sent from. She said on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website, there is a page for the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
She said the situation reports are published daily. Those most recent reports show there are 155 shelters open and close to the people who need then. Somers said the shelters are being managed through the state operations center and many of them are reporting that they have yet to get any clients.
Somers said it is important that the people who want to help in Grayson County and North Texas understand that waiting until a call comes for help, and being prepared to offer it when it is asked for, is a way of serving the Texans in need.
Grayson County Sheriff’s plan
Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt told commissioners that he is putting together a list of assets that could be made available for relief efforts for south Texas as soon as he is asked for help.
“I can tell you from experience that all of the law enforcement assets, firefighters and all of that, they’ve all gone down there (and) after about 75 or 80 hours on the job, they are gonna get tired and they are going to need some relief,” Watt said.