Storm Check-In

Members of various emergency operations entities help pretend evacuees check-in at the Walker County Storm Shelter as part of a state hurricane drill on Monday. The evacuees stayed at the shelter overnight and were provided hot meals by the Salvation Army.

With all of the rain over the past few days it would be conceivable to think that the Walker County Storm Shelter was actually taking in evacuees from out of town Monday. Looks can be deceiving, however.

Hurricane season is here and the Walker County and City of Huntsville offices of emergency management, and other local operations teams, are taking part in a state hurricane exercise that will cover the Texas Department of Public Safety Region II.

“We wanted it to be realistic with all the rain,” said a smiling Sherri Pegoda, the county’s deputy emergency management coordinator. “This is going to be a good exercise for us and get us ready if the real thing comes in.”

A group of volunteer evacuees from Pasadena arrived at the Storm Shelter on Monday afternoon and were going to spend the night. The Salvation Army had a mobile kitchen set up outside and were going to cook dinner and breakfast this morning as if these people were really there because of a hurricane.

The synopsis of the exercise is that a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico has been upgraded to Hurricane Charlie and is expected to make landfall just west of Galveston on Thursday. County Judge Danny Pierce and Huntsville Mayor Andy Brauninger pretended to declare a disaster and the Emergency Operations Center was activated.

Walker County is one of the state’s designated storm shelter hubs, so the Storm Shelter was opened and members of the Huntsville Police Department, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Department of Public Safety, Texas State Guard, Community Emergency Response Team, Texas A&M Veterinary Science Emergency Team, American Red Cross, Walker County Precinct 3 and 4 constable’s offices, Department of State Health Services, Texas Division of Emergency Management, Huntsville ISD, Walker County Sheriff’s Office Citizens on Patrol and Sam Houston State helped the mock evacuees and pets check-in Monday.

“We have been lucky that we have not had to activate the Storm Shelter because of a hurricane since Ike in 2008,” said Butch Davis, the county’s emergency management coordinator. “This is as close to the real thing as you can get. If we do have a hurricane make landfall this summer, we will know what to expect and if there is anything we need to work on to be better prepared.”

National experts are expecting this year to be “slightly below average” on the hurricane front. Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science released its annual hurricane forecast in April and it predicts there will be 11 named storms, and four hurricanes, two of which that will reach winds of up to 111 mph or higher, between now and November.

The first group of volunteers are leaving this morning and emergency officials will have a short period of time to prepare the shelter for a second group of evacuees who will arrive this afternoon and also stay overnight.

“We are actually having come volunteers come up from Houston who will pretend to be mental health patients, so that will be a plus if we ever are put in that situation,” Pegoda said. “As soon as the first group leaves, the next group is right behind them. We will only have enough time to change out the cots and clean up a little, but that is how it can be if a hurricane hits.”