June 01, 2006
Dallas: Maybe not so full after all

I figured there'd be a followup to yesterday's story about the city of Dallas balking at the proposal that they house up to 40,000 special needs evacuees from Houston in the event of a coastal hurricane. Today, at least one Dallas official says no, wait, we can do that.

Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher said area officials should take inventory and try to identify new shelter sites to supplement the convention center, Reunion Arena and other public shelters.

"This community will absorb what it needs to," Keliher said. "If the state thinks it is 40,000, then we need to work with the state and identify where 40,000 people would go. No doubt that we would step up and do what needs to be done."

I'm not surprised by this development. Yesterday's story was mostly about the opinion of one person, Kenny Shaw, the director of the city of Dallas' office of emergency management. It's not unusual that someone else might differ on this matter. Shaw himself has more to say today:

[Shaw] reiterated Wednesday that the American Red Cross has said it can provide shelters for only 15,000 people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and surrounding counties.

He said the Dallas area wants to help its neighbors, but simply doesn't have the capacity required in the state's plan.

"If they're going to make plans that involve us, they need to ask us to the table and work it out," Shaw said.

He said he would like to discuss the plan further with the state, but is waiting for Perry's administration to make the first call.

This gets back to my point yesterday that if the state's plan is to count on Dallas (or anyplace, for that matter) to provide this kind of assistance, it needs to do more than just assume it will happen. I don't think I'm stretching here when I say that Shaw's words sound a lot like "how do you expect us to pay for all this?" to me. What's Governor Perry's response?

Kathy Walt, the governor's spokeswoman, said state officials have already held meetings to inform Dallas officials of the plan. She reiterated that if North Texas can't handle the influx of people, "there will be contingency plans to turn to other communities for assistance."

The governor, in Houston on Wednesday to sign the new education funding law, was optimistic, saying that Dallas people are "good and compassionate individuals, and when something happens to their neighbors, they are going to be there to take care of them."

What's that saying? "Hope is not a plan"? Something like that. Sorry, but that does not fill me with confidence.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack was understanding of Dallas' initial response, especially after Houston's post-Katrina experience with rising crime rates and difficulty getting reimbursed by FEMA.

''Anybody who is paying attention to the strain on Houston's budget or Harris County's budget related to helping evacuees is aware of severe financial problems," Radack said.

Dallas Councilman Bill Blaydes didn't make any promises, but agreed with Keliher's general message, saying "this city will not shirk its responsibility to humanity."

If the worst happens, and there's another hurricane-induced mass evacuation from here, I would certainly expect that Dallas will do what it must to help out. It's one thing to talk about plans and contingencies and budgets now, and another thing to be presented with a busful of invalids with noplace else to go. Shaw is not wrong to be concerned about these things now, while they can still be discussed in a deliberate manner. Holding meetings to "inform" Dallas what's expected of it is insufficient. Where's the plan, Governor Perry?

In related news, Eric Berger writes about the four hurricane lessons we should have learned from last year and whether or not we did, while Houstonist attends the 2006 Houston/Galveston Hurricane Conference.

UPDATE: Polimom notes that Dallas' attitude contrasts sharply with those of Austin and San Antonio. Let me clarify something here: I do think Dallas has a moral obligation to at least be willing to help people in need like this, and the comments reported yesterday and today fall somewhat short of their acknowledging that obligation. But if, as I'm starting to suspect, they're really complaining about a lack of direction from the Governor's office, then I think that's valid. It seems to me that this is something that can get cleared up in a fairly non-messy fashion if the right people get together and discuss what they need to make this work. If we could get more of that and less using the newsies as meeting coordinators, that'd be swell.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 01, 2006 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack