We see a lot of articles here about how our government is dysfunctional, and at a national level it pretty much is. However, here in Texas our local government knows how to act in an emergency. They understand we cant wait for the Feds to provide relief, they understand they have to take the lead in mitigating a disaster.
We have a very effective county level of government, which normally we dont see much of, until there are disasters like Harvey. Then they step up and organize the efforts to set up shelters, to get people out of harms way, and to request the help that is useful from the Feds. They help to coordinate resources so we had something like 200 shelters in place within a couple of days of the flooding starting. They worked with the city to organize large shelters at the Convention Centers, which each held a peak of 10K people. These shelters came with cots, food, clothing, minor medical supplies. Eventually when FEMA showed up, they had tables where people could get help filing forms online for their insurance and flood relief. These places were staffed with volunteers, they were clean, orderly, and safe, since they also had onsite security. You can contrast this with the disaster that was the Superdome during Katrina. These shelters appeared almost immediately, and the logistics of this can only boggle the mind, since they were set up in the midst of the flood with rain falling at multiple inches per hour.
There were a great many citizens who showed up with boats, and high water trucks to help people get out of harms way. These folks were made more effective because of the work of the county workers. They set up the assembly points where people went to volunteer, they organized where the help was most needed and directed the rescue efforts.
The country published maps on line that showed what roads were flooded so people and supplies could navigate the city. With many, many roads flooded, finding a route from A to B, to help people was not easy.
The local government is giving high praise to FEMA in this disaster, but that is because they know how to use FEMA. They ask for supplies, but they dont depend on FEMA for organization. They asked for high water military trucks and got them within hours. They asked for cots for people to sleep on , and got them within hours. They didnt expect FEMA to set up shelters, and organize local restaurants to provide food for those people, how could FEMA know the city well enough to do that?
Local governments need to take the lead in these kinds of situations. They know where the problems are, they know what areas will flood, and what buildings are safe to use as shelters. We can expect the Feds to provide resources, but we cant expect the Feds to provide logistics. Logistics are everything in this kind of situation. You have to get help to people who need it.
This is an article about what a local Houston grocery had to do, to keep as many stores as it could functioning, so it could get food and supplies to people. It is an interesting read.
This is not something new. I have lived through four hurricanes in Houston, a couple were direct hits like Ike, which took down the Houston power for almost a week. In all these cases the city and county governments went above and beyond what I think would be reasonable. In all these situations they solved the problems first, with the help of our friends and neighbors, and ask for help from the Feds later. When people asked the Mayor how this will be paid for, he simply said, we have to make everyone safe as soon as possible, and sort out the money with FEMA later, we dont know what they will pay for right now, and we dont care.
Of course there will be the usual fraud, and insurance scams afterward. That comes with every disaster like this. But the important thing I see is that we have a government in place that can avoid chaos when the area gets into trouble. They calmly and carefully address the problems, and things get done.
A special shout out for our first responders, many of which didnt get to go home during the flood, but had to sleep at work, because roads were not passable. They worked to help people, not always knowing what their situation was at home. However, their efforts would not have been nearly as effective without the leadership and planning that our local governments had done.
I have complaints about the city like anyone does. Im sure mistakes were made, but I continue to be impressed with how this level of government, in this state, works when times are toughest. Im sure a lot of that has to do with the attitude of most Texans which is that we take care of our own. We dont wait for others to come to our rescue. Michael Dell donated $36M to help with the recovery. I dont care how much money you have, that is a lot. Lets hope it is wisely spent.