Denison assesses winter storms 1 month later

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Members of Denison Fire Rescue manually fill a truck with water during winter storms last month. The city is looking for ways to prevent future damage similar to that seen during storms last month.

Denison is looking for ways to mitigate damage from storms, like those that ravaged the region one month ago. City staff recently gave an update on the damage, recovery and lessons learned from the storms that left many Texas residents without water or power during prolonged record low temperatures.

Like many cities, Denison saw significant infrastructure damage, during the winter storms as water production ground to a halt, and pipes froze. Never the less, city crews and staff worked tirelessly to restore the systems that went down and maintain those that did not.

"Basically, I wanted to let them (the city council) know how many people were involved with the city employees, what kind of things we did, what kind of things we learned from it," Interim City Manager Bobby Atteberry said. "Also, we will be looking at things in the  budget to help keep this from happening again."

In total, 173 workers assisted in the city's response to the storms and aftermath. This includes more than a dozen public works and utility workers that worked, in some cases 24/7, to restore water services through the city. Others include police and admin staff who helped in various capacities.

One of the biggest impacts from the storm was to the city's water and water generation systems, which sustained prolonged outages for some customers and 87 main breaks across the city. Atteberry said the city's pump station was taken offline during what were initially expected to be rolling outages to maintain the statewide power grid. Instead, the station was powerless from Feb. 14 through late morning the next day.

The pumping station is equipped with two circuits that are designed to maintain power during an emergency, however, both were cut during the storms. Since the storms, city staff have taken the steps to ensure that the pump station is exempt from future rolling blackouts.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense that it wasn't (exempt), because the hospital was exempt. If the pump station can't get water to them, that hospital has to shut down," Atteberry said, noting Texoma Medical Center was not forced to shut down. 

Looking forward, Atteberry said one of the first steps the city is going to take is forming a new system to alert residents during an emergency and keep them up to day. Atteberry said the system would be similar to the Red Alert system that is in place with Grayson County.

"It will be similar to that... they said there may be things out there that is similar to that, but better than that" Atteberry said.

Atteberry said he has seen Red Alert misused in some communities he has worked with. Those systems were used for general messaging for events and other gathers rather than it being reserved solely for emergency notifications. This led some people to turn off the alerts.

The city will also be looking for ways to ensure power remains on for some municipal facilities, including water generation, during an emergency. Atteberry said that this could include the purchase of power generators, but said some alternatives with cost savings, including generator rentals, could be possible.

"That is a big investment for something that doesn't happen very often," he said.