Texas Activates Resources in Advance of Severe Storms
At the outset of what forecasters predict will be an active hurricane season, state and federal officials are working to foster public awareness – even as they tout improvements in their emergency management plans since hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc in 2005.
Governors in at least six states in harm’s way – Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – have declared official hurricane awareness periods to highlight the June 1 start to the Atlantic storm season; President Bush has done the same nationally.
New York and Louisiana, which felt the brunt of Katrina’s destruction, unveiled new Web sites – timed to coincide with the beginning of hurricane season – with evacuation tips, supply lists and other disaster-planning information.
In always hurricane-prone Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) recently authorized his state’s third annual sales tax holiday June 1-12 on goods related to hurricane preparedness, such as flashlights and two-way radios. “We have learned from experience that prepared residents and communities are key to surviving and recovering from hurricanes or other natural disasters,” Crist said in a statement. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) signed a similar measure into law in March, but it won't take effect until next year.
State steps to improve public awareness and preparation fit into a larger effort by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – widely criticized for its handling of Katrina – to redefine itself and oversee a coherent division of duties among local, state and federal authorities. That mission now includes a more concentrated effort to keep the public informed and prepared, according to FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison.
“The piece we’re missing right now is the personal preparedness piece,” Paulison said after a June 1 videoconference between FEMA and state and regional emergency planners.
A USA Today/Gallup poll in early May found that 41 percent of Americans don’t have reserves of food or water in case of a disaster, 27 percent don’t have extra medicine and 18 percent don’t have a first-aid kit, USA Today reported. A separate Mason-Dixon poll released May 31 surveyed residents of 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and found that 53 percent do not consider themselves vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes or flooding, according to news reports.
At the same time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 22 predicted a 75 percent chance of an “above normal” storm season, with three to five “major” hurricanes. A May 31 study by a widely cited forecasting team at Colorado State University predicted a “very active” season with five “intense hurricanes.”
State emergency management officials who briefed Paulison at the videoconference expressed confidence in their preparations, citing training exercises, development of evacuation routes and shelters and other measures. But in some cases, state preparations remain in early stages.
Florida officials this week began issuing warnings to gasoline station operators along some evacuation routes after they failed to comply with a new state law requiring access to backup power sources by June 1. According to a May 31 survey by the state Division of Emergency Management, 484 of the 1,077 targeted operators, or about 45 percent, are properly equipped. The law is designed to guarantee wider access to fuel for fleeing residents.
In South Carolina, where Gov. Mark Sanford (R) this week met with emergency planners to discuss hurricane preparations, the Legislature is funding generators to be used at shelters. But the plan is a three-year process and only about a third of those generators will be rolled out this year, according to Ron Osborne, director of the state Emergency Management Division.
In Louisiana, state officials recently finalized a contract with a Florida firm to provide 700 buses for hurricane evacuations. But the cost of that deal has more than tripled since last year, said Mark Lambert, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation and Planning.
Despite the hitches, Paulison said that he is pleased with hurricane-prone states’ progress and that a “culture of change” at FEMA following Katrina has led to more clearly defined roles among emergency responders.
Paulison said that includes already-constant communication between FEMA and states to prevent what he deemed a “sequential failure” during Katrina – “where we wait for a local community to become overwhelmed before the state steps in, and when we wait for a state to become overwhelmed before the federal government steps in.”
“We learned in Katrina, very clearly, that was not working. We’ve got to go in there side by side, working as partners,” he said.
By John Gramlich, Stateline.org Staff Writer
Gov. Perry Activates State Resources in Advance of Severe Storms
Gov. Rick Perry today authorized the activation of search and rescue teams and equipment for deployment in advance of severe storms expected across Texas through Memorial Day weekend and into next week. Some areas in the projected path have recently received heavy rainfall from the severe weather system moving across the state. These threatening storms are expected to produce additional heavy rain in already saturated areas, posing the danger of flash flooding.
“We hope Texans will take all possible precautions during severe weather to stay out of dangerous situations,” Perry said. “However, in such unpredictable circumstances, we want to be sure we have resources readily available to assist in the event of emergencies.”
Perry activated a Texas Military Forces rescue and evacuation team consisting of 96 soldiers and 38 high profile vehicles to be deployed to the following areas: Waco, Austin and San Antonio. He also activated four Texas Army National Guard helicopters and 28 personnel which will be staged in Austin and San Antonio.
The governor has activated three helicopter rescue squads from Texas Task Force 1, which will stage with the Texas Military Forces helicopters in San Antonio and Austin. Additionally, TTF1 will support a 28-member swift water rescue team in San Antonio with equipment and personnel ready for rapid deployment.
Texas Task Force 1 is a 300-member force that is nationally recognized for its unique search and rescue capabilities. It was deployed to New York City following the terrorist attack on 9/11, to New Orleans following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, and most recently, the full Task Force was deployed to assist in search and rescue operations in Maverick County as a result of the tragic tornado that struck that area April 24.
about Homeowner and Flood Insurance.
Previous Page | Next Page
Comment By Liam Pleven
- Read more...
Comment By U.S. Census Bureau
States, Taxpayers Take on More Liability for Disaster
As state governments assume more and more responsibility for homeowner’s disaster insurance, the risk to taxpayers in all areas rises.
More than twice as many homeowners and businesses in hurricane-prone states are now insured by quasi-public “insurers of last resort,” leaving state governments with a total liability for potential claims topping $650 billion. Meanwhile, a separate federal flood-insurance program has seen its liability jump by two-thirds since 2001 to more than $1 trillion.
"It's scary as hell," says James Elbert, an independent insurance agent who recently retired as chairman of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the state’s insurer of last resort.
The South Carolina legislature just approved tax credits for insurers that offer wind coverage on the coast, legislation that will cost the state budget at least $6 million to $10 million. "If it makes a company go in and write 100 policies in Charleston, it's worth it," says Insurance Commissioner Scott Richardson.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, Liam Pleven (06/07/2007)
- Read more...
Comment By By Laura Elder
2007 Hurricane Season Begins
The north Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and lasts through November. The U.S. Census Bureau produces timely local data that are critical to emergency planning, preparedness and recovery efforts. This edition of Facts for Features spotlights the number of people living in areas that could be most affected by these acts of nature.
In Harm’s Way
Estimated July 1, 2006, population most threatened by Atlantic hurricanes: the coastal portion of the states stretching from North Carolina to Texas. Twelve percent of the nation’s population lived in these areas. (Source: Special tabulation)
The 1950 coastal population of the states stretching from North Carolina to Texas. Seven percent of the nation’s population resided in these areas. (Source: Special tabulation)
Number of people added to the Atlantic and Gulf coastal areas from North Carolina to Texas between 1950 and 2006. Florida alone was responsible for the bulk of this increase (almost 15 million). (Source: Special tabulation)
Percentage growth of the coastal population of the states stretching from North Carolina to Texas between 1950 and 2006. (Source: Special tabulation)
Collective land area, in square miles, of the coastal areas from North Carolina to Texas. (Source: Special tabulation)
3 of 20
The number of the 20 most populous metro areas in 2006 that were within Atlantic or Gulf coastal areas from North Carolina to Texas. These areas are Houston-Baytown-Sugar Land, Texas (sixth); Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, Fla. (seventh), and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (19th). <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/population/009865.html>
The name given to the first Atlantic storm of 2007. The next Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean storm will be named Barry. <http://www.noaa.gov>
About 50 to 100
Number of people killed by hurricanes striking the U.S. coastline in an average three-year period.
Estimated 2006 coastal population of Florida, accounting for half of the coastal population of the states stretching from North Carolina to Texas. Among the Sunshine State’s coastal population, 10.5 million lived along the Atlantic and 7.1 million along the Gulf. (Source: Special tabulation)
Percentage growth of Florida’s coastal population between 2005 and 2006. (Source: Special tabulation)
352 people per square mile
The 2006 population density of Florida’s coastal areas. The Sunshine State leads the entire area between North Carolina and Texas in coastal population density. (Source: Special tabulation)
Population of Galveston, Texas, at the time of the city’s “Great Storm” on Sept. 8, 1900, that killed more than 8,000 people. At that time, Galveston, Dallas and Houston had similar populations. <http://www.census.gov/population/www/techpap.html>
Galveston’s population in 2005 — nowhere near that of Dallas (1,213,825) and Houston (2,016,582).
Population of Charleston County, S.C., in 2006. The county was devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, when its population was 295,000, but has rebounded nicely since.
Estimated population of New Orleans on July 1, 2005 — about two months before Hurricane Katrina struck.
Estimated population of New Orleans on July 1, 2006 — less than one year after Hurricane Katrina struck. The city’s population was down 50.6 percent from a year earlier.
The year the Weather Bureau officially began naming hurricanes. <http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/J6.html>
Note: Coastal counties include those with at least 15 percent of their total land area within the nation’s coastal watershed.
“Special Editions” of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Facts for Features are issued to provide background information for lesser-known observances, anniversaries of historic events and other timely topics in the news.
- Read more...
Comment By Michael Stuart
Another insurer is dropping thousands of windstorm insurance policyholders in Texas, this time leaving some of the county’s most financially vulnerable residents with few places to turn for storm coverage.
Dallas-based Capitol County Mutual Fire Insurance Co. has informed state regulatory officials that on July 1 it will drop about 10,600 policies covering windstorm damage in counties along the Gulf Coast.
The move will affect 2,663 policyholders in Galveston County.
Coastal dwellers have grown accustomed to private insurers breezing out of storm-prone markets. But state officials say the latest departure most harshly affects low-income policyholders.
CCM policyholders have coverage limits of up to $60,000 and pay monthly premiums.
Because their coverage is written on a monthly basis, non-renewal for all policyholders takes effect next month, leaving customers, insurance agents and regulatory officials scrambling.
Policyholders would have to pay lump sums for a year’s insurance — far larger than their existing monthly premium payments — for coverage through the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the state-created insurer of last resort.
The amount that CCM policyholders would pay for similar coverage for windstorm insurance through the association would vary and was not immediately available Tuesday, state officials said.
The average residential policyholder pays the state pool about $787 a year.
Texas Department of Insurance officials said in a letter to insurance agents that “the unique nature of policies written by CCM” allowed its policyholders “very limited options in terms of securing alternative coverage.”
The department is asking insurance agents for help in finding policyholders other coverage.
Capitol County Mutual will offer policyholders who live in their homes a new policy without windstorm and hail coverage, officials with the insurance department said.
Policies covering non-owner dwellings such as rented houses won’t be renewed at all.
CCM is the latest in a series of insurers to drop policyholders along the coast.
• In September, State Farm said it would drop several thousand homeowners and businesses in Galveston County; it also announced it would drop policies on more than 20 apartment complexes and condominiums on the island.
• In May 2006, Allstate notified customers it would drop windstorm protection from homeowner coverage. The company has 10,000 policyholders in Galveston County.
• This year, Nationwide Mutual said it would phase out windstorm coverage for about 1,000 homeowners, condominiums and other customers in Tier 1 counties, which are those closest to the Gulf.
As more insurers leave the coast and more people flock to waterfront homes, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is becoming overburdened.
As of May 31, it had 173,404 residential and commercial policies in force. The association is seeing new applications at a clip of 2,500 a week and expects nearly 220,000 policyholders by year’s end.
Capitol County policyholders who meet underwriting and inspection requirements could join the windstorm association.
But they face a 10 percent surcharge if they don’t have a WPI-8 form certifying that their houses meet the Texas Department of Insurance windstorm code.
The Texas Department of Insurance will answer questions about insurance or your policy non-renewal.
Call its toll-free Consumer Help Line at 1-800-252-3439, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday or visit the department’s Web site, www.tdi.state.tx.us, for information.
The department also will be available 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 23, and June 30 to answer questions.
- Read more...
Humane Society looking for foster pet homes in event of hurricane evacuation
The Humane Society is working with emergency management officials to prepare for evacuees and their furry friends in the event a major hurricane hits the Texas Gulf Coast. The Society is asking for willing households to sign up to provide shelter for animals who may need a refuge from the storm. “Texas will allow animals to come with evacuees, so we will be expecting more animals than we had with Rita and Katrina,” said Lori Anderson, public relations director for the Humane Society. “They expect anywhere up to 3,000 people coming if there is a hurricane, and they say 60 percent of those will have pets of some kind. “We need to have a list of foster homes for special-needs animals—for example, elderly pets, cats, exotic pets and physically challenged pets. I will need a list of people that I can call when I have these pets come to Texarkana,” Anderson said.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, many people left their pets behind, expecting to be home in a couple of days. Many of those people never saw their animals again. So officials, local and on the coast, are making plans to avert another situation like Katrina. “All animals will be accepted from now on. There will not be another situation like Katrina. A lot of pets got left behind. Of course, a lot of them drowned,” Anderson said.
People interested in opening their homes to a pet can call the Humane Society at 903-832-2321 to get their names on the list.
You must be logged in to post a comment. You can login here