Senator Lucio's Letterhead

OP-ED FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0127

Disaster-Proofing the Rio Grande Valley for Hurricanes

The hurricane season is upon us and in light of last year's disastrous hurricanes-Katrina and Rita-I am pleased to see the Rio Grande Valley engaged in preparedness and response planning.

Thanks to many of our local citizens and leaders, we have been steadily witnessing preparedness drills and engineering assessments. We are keenly aware of the need for compatible telecommunications technology; we understand the intricacies of planning an evacuation involving more than just placing signs along the highway; and we know why an investment in a strong levee system along the Rio Grande should no longer be delayed.

These are but a few elements of what should entail a regional pre-disaster mitigation plan--an initiative designed to "disaster-proof" our communities.

Implementation of a mitigation plan is what could prevent floods, provide emergency power and facilitate flawless evacuation. A mitigation plan can keep a severe weather event from becoming a disaster or a human tragedy. Such an investment, unfortunately, did not precede Hurricane Katrina.

In light of reports of impending hurricanes maybe coming our way, it is critical that the Lower Rio Grande Valley communities together develop a pre-disaster mitigation planning program similar to the one underway in 10 other Border counties, extending from Starr westward to Pecos.

Through the efforts of the Governor's Division of Emergency Management, FEMA has funded a program that will allow each of those counties to prepare a detailed disaster mitigation plan to meet the newly strengthened standards of the federal and state disaster management agencies.

With approved plans, local jurisdictions will qualify for federal grants to fund mitigation programs targeting specific identified risks. For our area, hurricanes and flooding in general are high on the list.

Under the leadership of Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), a team of experienced experts will be working with Border area cities and counties to systematically identify risks, propose actions that will reduce (mitigate) them and begin the steps needed to fund and complete disaster-proofing projects.

The Rio Grande Institute is collaborating with TAMIU on community outreach and has been joined by Austin-based H20 Partners, an experienced firm which is developing plans for over 100 Texas jurisdictions and working with the Rio Grande Institute and TAMIU on the Border plan.

Time Warner Cable has been instrumental in developing technology and other measures to keep our Valley residents safe and connected during weather emergencies. They've even released a hurricane preparedness Public Service Announcement, in which I was pleased to participate.

Hurricanes and floods are part of nature, indifferent to human-imposed boundaries. While we as human beings are constrained by jurisdictions and borders, we must think and plan across barriers for our common protection. In the Valley, we have a number of coordinating bodies knit together by statute or inter-local agreements that can play leadership roles in developing a comprehensive mitigation strategy. Part of my goal is to work with our local governments, the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority and the State of Tamaulipas to assess methods of minimizing future hurricane-related problems in our region.

The ravages of a hurricane or flood can easily impact our neighbors across the Border and vice versa. In such a situation, international bridge authorities could face both a humanitarian crisis and a refugee management nightmare. As I recall, in 1967 Hurricane Beulah's floods drove thousands to the bridge at Rio Grande City where they were allowed to go across to higher ground and avoid drowning.

Maybe we can't stop Rio Grande floodwaters, but levees and canals can contain and divert that water. We may be unable to assure there won't be a widespread power outage during a storm, but we can assure that all emergency power facilities are well- engineered, maintained, and positioned to meet the needs of hospitals, fueling stations, pharmacies, etc. The failure to develop an adequate pre-disaster mitigation plan proved to be the underlying reason for much of the confusion and tragedy in New Orleans.

And just as New Orleans, Galveston and the Mississippi coast "should have" anticipated problems and mitigated risks, we should be doing so now because our South Texas communities are located in harm's way, putting us all at risk.

Part of our success may depend on our connectivity to the state's hurricane evacuation and sheltering plan. If we must evacuate, we need to know where to direct people and inform them of where they can obtain food, water and medical assistance.

We need to engage all our institutions to work across political boundaries to plan and plan some more.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.

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