Houston emergency teams prepare for 2021 events like city-wide vaccine distribution

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston's Office of Emergency Management is using lessons learned from responding to the pandemic and historic weather events in 2020 to improve response and communication for what may lie ahead in 2021.

In August 2020, at least 100 first responders were re-routed to Louisiana after Hurricane Laura devastated our neighbors. The video went viral and made national headlines.

Nickea Bradley, Deputy Director for the City of Houston's Office of Emergency Management, reflected on that memorable moment and shared insight on the massive response.

"When [Hurricane] Laura didn't hit us, since we had mobilized all of our trucks and stuff for turning the electricity back on, our public works were staging for different items. We were able to immediately help our neighbors to the East of us that needed those same type of supplies," Bradley said. "Then, not even a month later, we were hit with Tropical Storm Beta, where we spent the next three days actually getting some flooding here in Houston, and mobilizing again and having those resources just fresh in our minds all over again, but our response was just two times better in my opinion."

Bradley said that response included distributing PPE, setting up emergency shelters and having supplies ready to go.

Texas first responders answered the call across the state and beyond in 2020, not only during the historic Hurricane season, but also to help cities impacted by wildfires along the West Coast and Texas cities overwhelmed by COVID-19 surges.

"It made me feel elated to know that Houston knows how to step up," Bradley said. "We know how to come together. We know how to adapt. That whatever may lie ahead for us in 2021, Houston's up for the challenge because we have practiced it, even when it didn't affect us and also how we can still help our neighbors even when we were affected."

Bradley said Houston's OEM response was unique, and that they had to find a way to collaborate with multiple departments and agencies to provide resources on the ground and virtually, while also implementing COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

"We actually had virtual staff helping us for one of the first times to reduce the number of people that were actively, physically in-person. But, we still have the same number of people able to assist us and respond."

She said for 2021, the team is working on improving its virtual response and resources, including communication and public awareness for the community.

"When it came to the discussion of vaccinations, our health department set up an exercise to show how we can do a drive-thru location," he said. "As we've seen with COVID-19, with the different storms and different things that keep popping up, we have to find new and creative ways to keep our public engage and wanting to hear our alerts, and read our alerts, and pay attention when it's important."

Visit the city of Houston's emergency website to sign up for emergency notifications.

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