Reliably Austin
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After Report Faults Halloween Flood Response, Is More Accountability Needed?

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News
Rescue teams in Southeast Austin assist people stranded in rising flood waters in the early hours of Oct. 31, 2013. A city report faults officials for late activation of an emergency response center, among other shortcomings.

Update: Austin City Council member and mayoral candidate Mike Martinez is asking the city’s Public Safety Commission to consider recommending an independent review of city response to the deadly Halloween flooding.

A report done by city staff highlighted more than 100 response problems, including communication issues between agencies and with the general public. Read more about the findings in the original story below.

In emails to the commission, Martinez requests the group consider calling for an independent review. Martinez also finds fault with the framing of the city's report, writing "My general impression is that the failures and opportunities are large, and the successes are relatively small. Giving them equal weight with a tally of successes, opportunities, and failures seems to undermine the seriousness of any analysis." 

The Public Safety Commission will also hear reports from Austin Fire, Police and EMS about the response to last October’s flooding.

Original story (April 15): In Austin, it’s almost certain a flood will hit in the future. What we don’t know is when.

In preparation for the next flood, the City of Austin evaluated the last one – the deadly 2013 Halloween flood that hit the Onion Creek neighborhood the hardest. Travis County and the City of Austin emerged from that report with a list of over 100 items deserving greater scrutiny.

The report, available here, cites dozens of instances of miscommunication among flood responders. 

The report also highlights that many entities were not even notified of the emergency: instead of responding moments or even hours after the flood, many entities responded days later.

That slow response frustrated the survivors.

Five-and-a-half months after the floods, Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Otis Latin says his office is in the process of making changes. Two major things Latin is focusing on: making sure early notifications go out to residents, and being “ready and able to provide non-English speaking language materials and communications to the area.”

The report highlights other disturbing challenges. Radio communications were running delays of up to one hour. The Emergency Operations Center the city shares with Travis County in times of emergency was activated late. And once it was up and running, personnel had no computer access.

City of Austin Public Safety Commissioner Mike Levy says it’s not right for the city to evaluate its flood response. Instead, he suggests an assessment should come from an outside entity. “We can’t fix it ourselves,” he says. “You bring in experts to look. But more importantly, you look at other communities and you learn from them and their mistakes and their successes.”

One major disaster that held many lessons: Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, Austin was intimately involved with the response to the storm that devastated New Orleans.

Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown resigned after his agency's bungled response to Karina was criticized.

In Austin, outside of an off-the-cuff apology, no one has taken the blame for the city’s mistakes. No one has been held accountable.

Otis Latin says that’s because city personnel hold themselves accountable all of the time. “What we are doing now is looking at [it], and we are working to improve in every area in that report; we have a corrective action plan.”

The corrective action plan based on the report's 100-plus items should be in place by November.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
Related Content