City of Austin prepares for winter weather

Winter is just a few short weeks away, and, in the wake of devastating ice storms in recent years, Austin officials gave an update Tuesday on what the city is doing to prepare for winter weather.

In February 2021, a crippling ice storm left millions without power, heat or even food. Many Austinites feel the city dropped the ball in its response to that storm, and another ice storm in February 2023.

"Across city departments, we have made changes that will support a more robust response effort," said Austin Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Ken Snipes.

Snipes’ words at Tuesday’s Austin City Council Work session, came a month after a city report listed more than 80 recommendations for how to better handle winter weather. At the top of that list is communication.

"We will redirect to our alert account, which is going to have all the information and translated in multiple languages," said Jessica King of Austin’s Communications and Public Information Office.

"We are committed to letting people know when to expect communications and being open and clear about information that is or is not available," said Snipes.

Another change: making sure first responders and public works have the tools they need to help us.

"We’re staging equipment, materials and people ahead of incoming weather, purchasing additional equipment to apply de-icing materials," said Snipes. "All fire and EMS apparatus are now set up with tire chains to help support movement on icy roadways.

The city is also working to prioritize clearing roadways, so people can access warming centers and cold weather shelters.

"I would hate for us to have another emergency event, and we're right back to where we were last year and trying to coordinate a makeshift shelter operation," said District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes.

Austin’s Interim Homeless Strategy Officer David Gray says he has a plan for that.

"To have our people experiencing homelessness come to a centralized embarkation center," said Gray. "And then we'll work with CapMetro to move people from the embarkation center to a shelter facility."

RELATED: Nearly 80 recommendations laid out in report looking at impact of Winter Storm Mara

Plans are also in the works to shuttle homeless people directly from encampments.

For other residents, the city will have 14 "resilience hubs" up and running.

"They’re all across the eastern crescent, including downtown," said Austin’s Chief Resiliency Officer Laura Patino. "There are existing facilities that provide heating and cooling spaces, food and water distribution."

But some members feel there needs to be more of a focus on those basic needs.

"If you don't have electricity and your stove is electric, it doesn't matter if you have 9 pounds of rice, you can't cook it," said District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

In the wake of the two recent ice storms, the National Weather Service is adding an Ice Storm Warning for Central Texas beginning this winter.