The Natalia City Council discussed how to improve disaster response with Medina County Emergency Management Coordinator Keith Lutz during their monthly meeting held last Monday, May 17.
Lutz said that difficulty in dispersing supplies during a disaster depended largely on its scope.
“In the case of the [February] winter storm, it was a problem completely statewide,” Lutz said of the shortage of resources. “If you have something that’s very isolated, for example the storms that we just had that went through D’Hanis, really an isolated thing that was about an eight-mile-wide strip that came through our county. In that, it was like we call Red Cross and they’re literally out there within hours and distributing tarps and clean-up kits and all those kinds of things.
“So it all relates to how big the disaster the disaster really is, because then at that point, we’re all fighting for the same resources out there.”
Lutz said that because water in cans and plastic bottles goes bad relatively quickly the county only keeps a few pallets on hand, a policy that Natalia residents experienced the consequences of firsthand during the prolonged power outage that accompanied the winter storm and left the town without running water for days.
“If I had one hundred pallets [of water] and it all goes bad, you’ve got to buy another hundred pallets,” Lutz said. “It gets very expensive to sustain that.”
However, Lutz said that the county’s supplies are dispersed during emergency situations.
“If it’s in the county, it’s going to come to where it needs to get to, that’s what we do,” Lutz said. “So there is no, ‘Hey we can’t bring it, we can’t do it.’ We’re going to make something happen if we have the resources to do it.”
While Hondo and Devine each have an Emergency Manager on staff, Natalia and La Coste do not, leaving them dependent on the county.
“Y’all are part of [Medina County’s] plan, and we’re going to support whatever it takes to make that happen,” Lutz said.
Councilman Sam Smith noted that the tornado warning sirens were not set off during the severe weather that the area experienced on April 28, which Lutz said was because Natalia and Devine were never under a tornado warning.
Lutz said he tried to set off the sirens for Hondo and Castroville without success.
“We had a problem,” Lutz said. “We had a power outage at the Dunlay tower and lost everything. I couldn’t even do it.”
The county used to test its tornado warning sirens on Tuesdays but according to Lutz moved to silent tests after Castroville’s mayor requested that they be done on Saturdays.
“We tested on Tuesdays,” Lutz said. “Why did we do that? Because I had all the law enforcement deployed across the county, literally at the sirens to find out did they work,” adding that he was willing to move the tests back to Tuesdays if the county mayors agreed.
In addition, Lutz suggested that residents sign up for Medina County’s free i-Info alerts, a mass notification registry that sends localized emergency alerts to subscribers.
“We work really hard on stacking redundancy so we have multiple paths for the citizens [to stay informed],” Lutz said.
Councilwoman Selica Vera noted that Natalia has experienced personnel turnover and asked if Lutz and representatives from the City and Natalia ISD could get together for a mock emergency exercise.
Lutz said he had no problem doing tabletop exercises, but pointed out that unforeseen variables arise during emergency situations.
“It’s a huge moving target,” Lutz said. “All of this stuff is a moving target, and what we’re doing is [assessing] what is the situation, what exactly we have…my job is to help facilitate all of this stuff. I’m a ‘getter.’ My job really is to get [things].”
Councilman Darin Frazier said it was the Council’s responsibility to make sure there was an emergency response plan in place in case of a disaster.
“We haven’t done that,” Frazier said. “We haven’t done that in years, to reaffirm to our citizens that yes, we do have it under control, yes, there are things that are taking place.”
Lutz said that there is always a lot going on behind the scenes during an emergency and asked for patience in the immediate aftermath. He also pointed out the importance of individuals having their own plans in place.
“You can have a scenario where nobody can do anything for whatever reason,” Lutz said. “Can you just sustain yourself for 24 hours or 48 hours? Do you have enough to sustain yourself in order to make something happen?”
By Marly Davis