The task force made its recommendations in five areas of command, control and communications; evacuation of people with special needs; fuel availability; traffic flow; and public awareness. The report is a sort of bare bones look at what needs to be done. One of the key changes will be the chain of command. Current state law enables city mayors to call for mandatory evacuations. If the legislature follows the reports recommendations, evacuation orders will fall to the governor. Houston Mayor Bill White says he's okay with that.
"Any governor is going to listen to what the local elected officials have to say and it will be coordinated, and in fact, that was not a problem during this last time. So we all made the announcements about evacuations -- state office of emergency management and the judge and I -- at virtually the same time this last time. There were some coastal counties, generally not feeding in this area but all up and down the Texas coast and in East Texas, where there was some delays in ordering evacuation."
The report confirms there needs to be a plan in place for contra-flow lanes to be opened on the freeways, ahead of an evacuation. The task force also recommends state agencies cooperate with the private sector to provide fuel and aid stations along the evacuation routes. Governor Rick Perry says state control over evacuations will ensure a less chaotic evacuation procedure.
"This report will improve planning and coordination which will result in more effective hurricane response when lives hang in the balance and every second truly counts. It'll also give local officials the tools to better protect their communities. With interlocking state, regional and local plans, coordination will occur at the state level while execution remains on the regional and local levels where it belongs."
The task force held public hearings in six metropolitan areas, including Houston, and heard open testimony from 97 citizens. The information was compiled into 21 recommendations on ways to alleviate an evacuation nightmare comparable to what happened prior to Hurricane Rita. The recommendations to increase state and gubernatorial control require legislative changes. The only way to make those changes before the next hurricane season would be to call a special session.
"We will be having a special session and the first and foremost issue that we're going to deal with in that special session is the mandate to deal with the school financing issue, i.e. lowering the property tax cap. After that is on my desk and signed, there may be a host of issues, this being one of them that needs to be addressed by the legislature."
There's a link to the task force's complete report on our website, KUHF dot org. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.