This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media.
The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1. Harris County is reminding people not to let down their guard — even though the region hasn’t had to deal with a big storm since Hurricane Ike blew through nearly seven years ago.
“After Hurricane Ike, it became apparent that expanding Transtar made a lot of sense, particularly the Emergency Operations Center,” says Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who serves as director of Harris County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The center is tucked inside the Houston Transtar building near the Katy Freeway. Dozens of monitors and projections screens line the walls of the cavernous room, which now contains 100 workstations. That’s more than three times as many as before the expansion.
Judge Emmett says the EOC will be more effective, now that there’s space for every agency that comes together when things outside start falling apart.
“(The expansion) enables us to pull not only the levels of government together, but all the private partners — the not-for-profits, groups like Red Cross. We can all be in the same room when decisions are being made. And, that way, there’s no miscommunication in dealing with an emergency,” Emmett says.
Depending on the situation, people who report to the EOC might have to stay there for days. Now, thanks to the expansion, they have simple comforts, like showers.
“We still don’t have bunks, or anything like that. But we have more space for people to spread out, to rest. And that kind of thing also leads to better decision-making,” Emmett says.
But even with all the extra space, the latest in communication technology, and creating and testing disaster plans, things can still go awry in an emergency.
“I spend a lot of time worrying about what we have not thought about, and never become complacent in the decisions and process that we have,” says Mark Sloan, Harris County Coordinator for Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Sloan says people also need to watch out for becoming complacent with their own preparations just because there hasn’t been a major storm in this area for the better part of a decade.
“And those who have been here from Alicia, to Allison, to Ike, you’re part of emergency management. I look to you to help educate those who are new to our community on what needs to be done,” Sloan says.
A link to the Harris County Hurricane Preparedness checklist can be found here.