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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The ice storm that coated the greater Austin area in late January and early February was responsible for more than 170,000 tons of storm debris — enough to fill Q2 Stadium more than four times over, an after-action report from Austin Resource Recovery revealed.
The “historic” winter storm resulted in approximately 0.71 inches of freezing rain and ice accumulation, the most in city history. Thousands of Austinites went without power as a result of storm damages, which included downed trees and tree limbs, wires and poles.
Improvement opportunities for storm debris collection
In ARR’s after-action report, it noted the department had debris collection and monitoring contracts in place and ready to go prior to the onset of the winter storm. Some temporary debris collection sites had also been identified in advance of the storm, with plans and supplies in place to help prepare equipment for cold weather response.
The report recommended Austin leaders create a citywide budget to fund emergency events, so those expenses aren’t charged to individual departments’ operating funds. The report also advised city officials to identify extra temporary debris collection sites before the next storm to help mitigate any collection delays and enhance drop-off efficiencies.
Extra training, communication needed during emergency event
From an operational standpoint, ARR had plans in place for supervisors and safety personnel to evaluate routes and establish operations zones for crews and contractors. There was also a cold weather operations vehicle preparation plan in place, the report found.
Some supervisors and employees weren’t properly trained on storm event-related documentation and paperwork prior to the winter storm. The report stressed requiring emergency event documentation training in advance of a forecasted storm or in early January, as winter events become more prevalent.
There was also noted confusion on who was deemed “essential personnel,” the report found. It suggested establishing and clearly communicating which employees are considered essential before the next storm.
There was a shortage of ARR handheld frequency radios reported in the after-storm findings, as well as documented issues with vehicle-mounted communication radios. The report stressed all emergency-response management staff should be issued a handheld radio, with backup handhelds in reserve. It also advised checking on the vehicle-mounted radios to ensure they are properly working.
One of the improvement plan efforts flagged in the report was establishing an emergency operations center and communication hub to allow departments to communicate in real time across the board. Another improvement plan recommendation was creating a departmental emergency response team that would have clearly defined roles and would be able to respond to emergency situations immediately.
Damages sustained to ARR vehicles from the storm
ARR also reported excessive levels of wear and tear on ARR’s fleet due to the storm, causing an uptick in necessary repairs. The report recommended ARR have a standing contract established and in place for emergency fleet repairs and hire additional staff to aid existing ARR fleet personnel.
Some contractors also exhibited some “unsafe behaviors during the storm event,” the report said. One recommendation was to review and approve contractor safety plans before the next emergency event.