City of Austin provides update on actions taken to prepare for another winter event

The City of Austin has provided an update on actions that have been taken over the past year to prepare for a potential winter event.

The city memo released on Wednesday is a follow-up to a series of After-Action Reports put out in November detailing recommendations after the winter storms in February 2021.

A pedestrian walks past a road sign warning commuters of icy conditions on a road in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Photographer: Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A total of 132 recommendations were made, and the City has now identified about a quarter of them (32) as priority recommendations because they provide a high benefit to the City at a lower cost or have little to no additional cost. Of the 32, five have already been completed, 12 are in progress, and 15 are awaiting updates from other departments. 

Some of the tasks completed by key departments in preparation for future disaster responses include: 

  • Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) has updated its emergency plans and conducted monthly emergency management meetings on responses to future emergency events such as ice storms. HSEM launched a new alert system for people who are hard of hearing, deaf or blind and updated their cold weather sheltering plan for people experiencing homelessness. HSEM also has a plan to place supplies at City of Austin facilities that can be utilized as shelters if needed during winter weather. To ensure that HSEM’s plans and goals are in line with the City, County and other government agencies, including the private sector, a tabletop exercise was conducted with more than 150 attendees from across the region.  More exercises and drills are scheduled for 2022.
  • Austin Energy (AE) is working to increase the overall capacity of its energy portfolio in order to increase the probability that circuits can be rotated during a high magnitude event. Initial capacity increases are being achieved by focusing on actions that will provide the greatest increases and can be achieved in the shortest timeframe if ERCOT puts restrictions in place again.
  • Austin Water (AW) has made considerable progress toward implementation of recommended actions from its internal After Action review and the citywide review sponsored by HSEM, and based on priorities approved by members of the Water and Wastewater Commission. Many completed actions increase overall utility resiliency and the ability to respond to complex, cascading events. Specific projects related to infrastructure will be incorporated into Austin Water’s ongoing Capital Planning process for development and implementation, while others will be incorporated into ongoing operations and maintenance activities.
  • Community and Technology Management (CTM) has improved network infrastructure. CTM purchased a mobile generator that can be deployed to serve as a critical network hub. Three additional generators are being acquired and will be placed at critical sites for added fuel support in an extended power outage.
  • The Combined Transportation, Emergency, & Communications Center (CTECC) is now storing four days of meals and drinking water on site. In coordination with Fleet Services, CTECC is identified as a priority location for fuel resupply to backup generators.
  • Public Works Department (PWD) added snow removal from critical streets to their workflow and added streets and bridges for clearing or sanding that access Austin Water treatment plants, APD/Fire/EMS stations, hospitals, and more.
  • Fleet Services updated critical functions and policies, creating a City-wide revised snow chain process and procedure for inventorying, order management, training, and installation.
  • Austin Transportation Department (ATD) worked with Fleet Services to purchase additional road traction devices and ordered supplies to support staff in the event that staff must stay at ATD facilities around the clock during a disaster.
  • Building Services Department (BSD), in support of other COA departments and to equip staff with the ability to keep City facilities operational, equipped all BSD on-call vehicles with tire chains.
  • Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) stationed containers with emergency management supplies in strategic locations for immediate shelter activation.
  • Homeless Strategy Division of Austin Public Health allocated funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund a temporary Emergency Plans Officer focused on implementation of recommendations related to mass sheltering and other services.

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