April 22, 2006
Disaster commander to be picked

We have a resolution for the disagreement between Governor Perry and the Houston-Galveston Area Council over his demand for a single commander for catastrophe situations (see here and here for background): A committee chair will be chosen to serve as the single commander.

After mayors and county judges within the local, 13-county region chose a 15-member committee this week to manage disasters, instead of a picking a single commander, Perry said the plan was "fraught with danger."

But since then, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and others have met with Perry to assure him that local officials will select an individual for the state to work with during hurricanes.


According to Perry's executive order issued last month, all 150 mayors and county judges in the greater Houston region were to vote upon a single commander for all catastrophes.

This proved an especially difficult process because of lingering divides in the wake of the Hurricane Rita evacuation, in which some coastal county officials were upset that residents were bogged down in Harris County traffic.


Eckels said the new coordinating committee will likely meet for the first time next week. At that time, Eckels said, he expects it will choose a chair or commander for hurricane evacuations.

For now, this promise of a single commander appears to have mollified Perry.

"Having a single person leading an evacuation was a key recommendation of the task force, and the region is also working toward naming a single incident commander specifically for hurricane evacuations," said Rachael Novier, a spokeswoman for Perry.

"The governor said last week he believes that is a wise decision. It makes sense when the region must act quickly and lives are on the line."

Seems like the logical answer. I'm still not sure that this is a workable solution, given that the intent is to handle all kinds of disasters and potential evacuation scenarios, not just hurricanes. That's a pretty broad mandate, and it's not clear to me that it should be a job for just one person, whether or not there's a committee behind that person. That said, we all know that the focus of this thing is hurricanes, and there's no reason why it can't be effective for that. This interview with Dennis Storemski, Houston's representative on the Unified Area Coordinating Committee, gives an idea of what it's all about.

This is really nothing more than a coordinating entity. This group is not intended to tell individual mayors or county judges how to handle their responses during a crisis. Its purpose is to coordinate resources. If there are multiple demands on resources, you get a group of people together who will try to prioritize who needs them most.

We'll see how it works. Meanwhile, in a sign that everyone has hurricanes on their minds about now, there's this. Make of it what you will.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 22, 2006 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack

James Lee Witt

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