Evaluating the Emergency Management Program at Travis County Emergency Services District #1

Abstract

Travis County faces the problem of the growing number of fire calls which needs the urgent response and which reveals the growing trend to the increasing risk of fire and other emergencies in the area because of the fast growth of the county. In such a situation, the preparedness of the county to emergencies is pivotal but the Travis County Emergency Service District (ESD) 1 has to respond to the increased vulnerability of Travis County to emergencies and has to come prepared to new challenges and vulnerability of the local community.

The purpose of the research project is to identify Travis County Emergency Services District #1 role in emergency management for the three municipatlities it serves. 

Research questions are 1. What are the legal requirements for developing a comprehensive emergency management program for an Emergency Services District in Texas?

2. What are the expectations of elected officials for each municipality, ESD board, and other agencies in regards to the districts emergency management program?

3. What roles and responsibilities do other Texas Emergency Services Districts have in their emergency management program?

4.  What additional role can Travis County Emergency Services District #1 play in emergency management? 

The methodology used in the research project is qualitative by its nature. The current research is the descriptive research will be used by collecting data through internet websites, questionnaires, interviews, and surveys.

Results of the study reveal the lack of training and reviewing of emergency programs by municipalities and especially by the Travis County ESD 1. However, the major problem of the Travis County ESD 1 is the lack of interaction and cooperation between the ESD 1 and the three municipalities it is responsible for.

Recommendations of the study focus on possible improvements of the interaction between the ESD 1 and the three municipalities along with the wider involvement of the ESD 1 into the emergency management operations plans developed by municipalities. As the ESD 1 is disintegrated from existing emergency management operations plan, the ESD 1 should take the proactive position and take an active part into the development and implementation of the emergency management plans along with regular training and reviewing emergency management plans on the regular basis.

Table of contents

Abstract

Introduction

Background and significance

Literature review

Procedures

Results

Discussion

Recommendations

References

Introduction

Problem Statement

The problem is that Travis County Emergency Services District #1 has three municipalities in the district and does not actively participate in emergency management activities.

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this research project is to identify Travis County Emergency Services District #1 role in emergency management for the three municipatlities it serves. 

Research Question

  •            What are the legal requirements for developing a comprehensive emergency management program for an Emergency Services District in Texas?
  •            What are the expectations of elected officials for each municipality, ESD board, and other agencies in regards to the districts emergency management program?
  •            What roles and responsibilities do other Texas Emergency Services Districts have in their emergency management program?
  •             What additional role can Travis County Emergency Services District #1 play in emergency management? 

Methodology

Descriptive research will be used by collecting data through internet websites, questionnaires, interviews, and surveys

Background and significance

Travis County ESD 1 is located in northwest Travis County, Texas.  The district encompasses 178 square miles, has a permanent population of 32,000 residents and is primarily a residential area. This is also a major tourist area due to Lake Travis a favorite recreational area for thousands of tourists. Due to this tourist attraction the weekend population of ESD 1 can escalate by 35,000 people.

Travis County ESD 1 provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, Point Venture and large unincorporated areas of Travis County, making it the largest ESD in the county. Travis County ESD 1 currently has three fire stations with two new stations under construction in an area of the district where 41% of its call volume occurs. The ESD 1 front line fleet includes three engines, one aerial truck, three brush trucks, one tender, one rescue unit, two ambulances, two command vehicles and one boat. Travis County ESD 1 responded to an average of 2,300 fire, EMS, rescue and hazardous material incidents during the years 2015-2017. During this time period the department responded to an average of 26 structural fire calls annually. The average loss per structural fire was $354,000. Call volume for ESD 1 is increasing 20% annually due to the dynamic growth that is occurring in the district.

Travis County is one of the fastest growing counties in Texas. From 2000-2017 the county experienced growth of 51% from 812,280 residents to 1,226,698 residents. Due to this, ESD 1 is also experiencing rapid development. From 2014 to 2017 the population grew by 39% from 23,000 people to 32,000 people. In 2014 ESD 1 was a combination department with 10 full-time firefighters supplemented by a contingent of volunteers. Currently ESD 1 is staffed with 49 full-time personnel including 45 operational staff and four administrative staff.

The fast growth of the county increases risks of fire occurrence in the area. The increasing risk of fire occurrence raises the problem of the preparedness of ESD 1 to address the risk of fire and the fast response to fire calls the ESD 1 receives. The problem of the increasing number of fire calls leads to the increasing pressure and work overload employees of ESD 1 suffer from. As they work in the highly stressful environment, the work overload makes their work even more challenging and difficult. This is why the staff of ESD 1 confronts the problem of the emergence of various psychological and mental health issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, increased anxiety level, and other issues.

Travis County ESD 1 is primarily a residential area, though it does protect some critical infrastructure, most notably Lake Travis which serves as a water supply reservoir for 12 cities which border it.  Two of Travis County’s major communications towers for radio and broadcast media are within ESD 1. Other critical infrastructure and facilities include: 3 schools, a Post Office, Municipal Airport, 2 Medical Clinics and the Balcones Canyon Land Wildlife Preserve. All these areas and facilities need the adequate protection and the reliable water supply in case of emergency. The lack of access to the water supply or the lack of the immediate response to the emergence or even delays in response may lead to casualties and destruction of both private and public property.

In light of the exposure of Travis County to the high risk of fire and other emergencies, the enhancement of ESD 1 is apparently essential and ESD 1 has to come prepared to respond to any emergency that occurs in any of three municipalities. The preparedness of the ESD 1 should grow along with increased occurrence of fire calls because the increased number of fire calls mirrors the fast progress of the county and its increased vulnerability to fires and other emergencies. Therefore, Travis County ESD 1 should play the main part in response to the emergency and enhancement of the emergency management to prevent fire and other emergencies from occurrence in the county. Otherwise, if ESD 1 comes unprepared to the increased vulnerability of the community to emergencies, the county is likely to suffer from increased damages and casualties from emergencies that may and will occur in the three municipalities ESD 1 is responsible for. Therefore, the study of possible ways to enhance the emergency management and to use the full potential of ESD 1 in terms of the improvement of the emergency management in the three municipalities served by ESD 1is important for the elaboration of the new strategy of the enhancement of the emergency management in the area.

Literature review

Today, Travis County confronts the problem of the increased number of fires. The number of fire calls in the area served by the Travis County ESD 1 grows by 20% annually (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2017).  The growth of the number of fires means that Travis County faces higher risks of casualties among civilians and damages to the private and public property. The increased number of fire calls increases the pressure on ESD 1 and urges employees to respond faster. As the staff remains unchanged, they experience the problem of the work overload which have a negative impact not only on their performance and job satisfaction but also on the safety in the three municipalities served by Travis County ESD 1. Therefore, at the moment, ESD 1 faces new challenges and higher risks of emergency situations that may and do occur in the three municipalities served by ESD 1.

The increased vulnerability of the county to the risk of fire is the result of the accelerated growth of the county and the use of hazardous materials and technologies that involve the risk of fire occurrence (Alexander, 2002). The progress of the county comes hand in hand with the growth of the vulnerability of the county to the risk of fire and other emergencies.  In this regard, the vulnerability turns out to be dependent on the technological and economic progress of the three municipalities because the technological progress that stimulates economic growth also stimulates the emergence of risks that may cause fire and other incidents that may lead to disastrous consequences.

The progress of the county becomes a sort of a threat for the emergency management but it does not mean that the county should stop in its technological or economic development. Instead, the progress of the county means that ESD 1 should come prepared to new threats and risks and ESD 1 should keep progressing and keep pace of the technological and economic progress of the county rather than stumble in its development and emergency management plans.

The increased vulnerability of the county to the risk of fire and emergency occurrence implies the necessity of the enhancement of the emergency management.  Travis County and its municipalities need to have carefully and thoroughly elaborated emergency management operations plan. What is more important, the progress of the county and increased vulnerability of the county to new threats and risks of emergency imply that municipalities and emergency services should review and update their emergency management operations plans on the regular basis to keep pace with the progress of the county and to comply with emerging risks and threats which have never existed before or which have expanded their scope and become more frequent to occur in the county, as is the case of fires, for example.

Municipalities and emergency agencies, including Travis County ESD 1 are responsible for the public safety that means that they are supposed to come fully prepared to emergency situations and address emergencies immediately and effectively that requires the creation and implementation of the effective emergency management operations plan, if necessary. Local emergency management and homeland security programs include threat identification and prevention activities, emergency planning, providing or arranging training for local officials and emergency responders, planning and conducting drills and exercises, carrying out public education relating to known hazards, designing and implementing hazard mitigation programs, coordinating emergency response operations during incidents and disasters, and carrying out recovery activities in the aftermath of a disaster (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2017). Travis County has such programs. Municipalities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and The Village of Point Venture have developed emergency management operations plans which address all those issues mentioned above. Therefore, they have emergency management operations plans that help them to come prepared to confront disasters or incidents that expose the public to various threats. The preparedness of local communities is very important in terms of the prevention of disastrous effects of emergencies. Also such plans help to mitigate risks and prevent emergencies from occurrence.

Therefore, municipalities develop their emergency management operations plans which help them to address emergencies. Most local governments have an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) staffed by members of its various departments that is activated to manage the response to major threats and incidents and coordinate internal and external resource support (Waugh, 2016). EOC is an important element of the emergency management structure which helps communities to come prepared to incidents and disasters that occur in the area. EOC helps to coordinate actions of different departments and agencies recovery involved in the emergency management and recovery. Researchers (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2017) argue that the close coordination between all agencies involved in the emergency management is needed. Therefore, according to such findings, ESD 1 should collaborate closely with municipalities and other emergency agencies and get involved into EOC and emergency management plans developed by municipalities.                                                                                                                                                                                                      

The effective emergency management requires the effective command system since the command center is the backbone of the emergency management that coordinates and manages all actions of all agencies involved in emergency operations. Most local governments use the Incident Command System (ICS) as their incident management scheme. Under ICS, an Incident Commander typically directs the on-scene response by local responders from a field command post set up at or near the incident site (Walle, Turoff, & Hiltz, 2014). ICS helps to coordinate actions and management of the emergency on the site and in the command center of the emergency management operation. Managers located in the command center receive the information from agents on the site. After that they process the information and take decisions how to continue the operation and gives orders to agencies involved in the emergency management operation to address the most urgent issues and to cope with the emergency and its consequences effectively. ICS has to involve all emergency management agencies, including ESDs to operate effectively and to confront the emergency successfully.

At the same time, the Travis County ESD 1 is not fully engaged in the emergency management. Regardless of increasing risks and vulnerability of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and the Village of Point Venture, municipalities the ESD 1 is responsible for, the ESD 1 still undertakes insufficient efforts to address emerging risks and vulnerabilities. Researchers (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2017) reveal the lack of the collaboration between ESD 1 and the three municipalities. They lack of interaction between ESD 1 and the three municipalities it is responsible for crates the gap in the emergency management because, according to existing studies (Haddow & Bullock, 2004), all emergency agencies and stakeholders should collaborate with each other to reach the most efficient response level in case of emergency. ESD focuses on the elaboration of its own programs and plans, which are not coordinated with municipalities and other agencies.

The role of ESD can hardly be underestimated in the emergency management and response because ESDs have opportunities and capabilities to monitor the situation and coordinate actions of different agencies and organizations that may be involved into the emergency management to suppress the emergency situation and to minimize risks associated with the emergency. ESD 1 has both resources and capabilities to address emergency situations effectively. ESD 1 is specialized on the emergency management and services that aim at the prevention and effective response to emergency. ESD 1 can contribute to the fast and effective response to emergency, but to reach such effect the collaboration with the municipalities and other emergency agencies is needed. Otherwise, ESD 1 cannot realize its full potential and implement its functions and emergency capabilities successfully.

The unification of efforts of ESDs and local communities is also essential with regard tto the prevention of emergencies.  Many researchers (Cuny, 1983) argue that the prevention of the emergency management is more effective than the emergency management and coping with consequences of emergencies. Therefore, Travis County ESD 1 should consider the development of the prevention program to decrease risks and to make the three municipalities it is responsible for less vulnerable to the risk of fire and emergency. The effectiveness of the prevention of emergencies has multiple aspects. First, the prevention of emergencies can help to avoid damages or destruction of the public and private property. Second, the prevention of emergencies helps to save life and health of civilians because they are not exposed to the impact of devastating disaster or accident. At the same time, the prevention of emergencies is more effective than the emergency response and recovery in economic terms. The elimination of consequences and the recovery after emergencies is costly, especially compared to the prevention of emergencies, especially taking into consideration the fact that some emergencies may not even occur, if they are prevented properly. For example, fire is often triggered by negligent behavior of people rather than by natural factors. This is why the simple observation or rules and regulations that help to prevent fire can help to avoid the emergency at all. This is why many researchers (Phillips, Neal, & Webb, 2015) conclude that local communities and emergency agencies should focus on the prevention of emergencies as the best strategy to optimize the emergency management and to minimize costs of the emergency management for local communities along with increase of the preparedness of local communities to emergency situations.

On the other hand, some emergencies are inevitable and occur regardless of efforts of emergency agencies or municipalities. Natural disasters are often unpredictable and they cannot always be prevented because they occur naturally. ESDs and other emergency agencies can only try to mitigate risks and minimize the negative impact of natural disasters that occur from time to time. The development of the effective emergency management involves the preparedness of communities to emergencies which may occur unexpectedly and which emergency agencies cannot prevent. Researchers (Wisner, et al., 2004) argue that the higher is the level of awareness of local community members and emergency agencies the more efficient is the response to emergencies. This is why they recommend increasing the public awareness of the importance of emergency management and the wider involvement of the public into emergency management operations plans as well as the rise of the cooperation between emergency agencies to enhance their collaboration in case of emergency.

Procedures

Descriptive research was used in terms of the current study and involved the collection of data through internet websites, peer-reviewed journal articles and surveys. The descriptive research design contributed to the detailed analysis of the current situation in Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture and Travis County ESD 1. The analysis involved the qualitative assessment of current issues and the scope of the integration of Travis County ESD 1 into the emergency management operations plan of each municipality ESD 1 serves for. The analysis helped to find out the overall preparedness of the three municipalities and ESD 1 to emergency, including such aspects as the frequency of exercises, overview of emergency management operations plan and other aspects of the emergency management planning in Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture and the role of Travis County ESD 1.

Participants of the study consisted of employees of ESD in Texas, including employees of the Travis County ESD 1. Also, the study involved mayors and city managers of Texas municipalities.  The involvement of employees of ESDs in Texas was essential to monitor the situation in other ESDs but Travis County ESD 1. The information provided by employees of other ESDs was useful in terms of the revelation of the interaction of ESDs with municipalities and the role of ESDs in emergency management. Employees of ESDs also helped to identify possible problems, such as the lack of training, and the overall preparedness of the staff to emergencies through the frequency of emergency management operations plan overviews and related issues.

Employees of Travis County ESD 1 provided up-to-date information on the current situation in ESD1 and its role in the emergency management in three municipalities, including Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture. The comparison of their responses to responses of employees from other ESDs helped to reveal differences between Travis County ESD 1 and other ESDs statewide and specificities of operations and functioning of ESD 1 with regard to emergency management in the three municipalities. Employees of ESD 1 helped to identify the role of ESD 1 in the emergency management in local communities and the integration of ESD 1 into existing emergency management operations plan of the three municipalities. Also employees of ESD 1 provided information for the further analysis to find out their preparedness to emergency management and their readiness and capability to cooperate with municipalities and other emergency agencies. Overall, employees of Travis County ESD 1 provided the most important information for the current study that allowed conducting the analysis of the role of ESD 1 in the emergency management in Travis County.

Mayors and city managers of Texas municipalities helped to have a view on the emergency management from a different perspective. To put it more precisely, mayors and city managers opened the municipal perspective on the emergency management. Mayors and city managers contributed to the revelation of their cooperation with ESDs and the actual need of such cooperation. Also, mayors and city managers contributed t the revelation of the preparedness of municipalities to emergencies and the preparation and overview of their emergency management operations plan and exercises. With regard to the goal of the current study, mayors and city managers also uncovered the degree of the involvement of ESDs into the emergency management operations planning process and the interaction between municipalities and ESDs in case of emergency and at the stage of the emergency management planning.

The sample population was selected randomly on the ground of their relation to ESDs, ESD 1 or Texas municipalities as well as the emergency management.  The independent variable was their relation to the emergency management in Texas and Travis County as well as their employment either in ESDs

The total number of participants was 85, including 4 mayors and city managers, 31 ESD employees, and 50 ESD 1 employees.

Participants of the study were involved in the online survey, while their responses were recorded and the results were processed to identify the key findings of the study. All responses and findings were presented in tables and graphs to facilitate the interpretation of results of the study and to visualize findings of the study.

All participants signed the informed consent form, which contained detailed information on the purpose of the study, their role in the study and expected outcomes of the study. The informed consent form also guaranteed the protection of the privacy of participants of the study since the study was conducted on the condition of anonymity of participants of the study. No personal information was uncovered in the course of the study or after the study to the third parties.

Results

The majority of the ESD personnel do not serve in a position within the municipalities emergency management program.

Furthermore, the ESD does not receive funding from a municipality specifically for emergency management that means that the ESD is not motivated to focus on the enhancement of the security and safety of municipalities because the latter are not involved into funding the ESD. Instead, the ESD would take care more of those, who fund the ESD.

The persisting gap between ESDs and municipalities is probably the result of the lack of funding of ESD by municipalities. As the survey of ESD 1 staff revealed the lack of funding from the three municipalities the ESD 1 serves, the similar issue is common to other ESDs in Texas.

The staff of Travis County ESD 1 is not very familiar with the roles and responsibilities of emergency management for the cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture. To put it more precisely, employees of the Travis County ESD 1 are either somewhat familiar with or unfamiliar at all with the roles and responsibilities of emergency management for the cities of the three municipalities the ESD 1 is responsible for.

Furthermore, the majority of employees of the Travis County ESD 1 involved in the study have not reviewed the emergency operations plan for Travis County or the Cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, or the Village of Point Venture.

At the same time, it is just about a half of participants of the study, who work at the Travis County ESD 1, that have ever participated in an exercise involving emergency management.

Furthermore, results of the study show that the majority of ESDs in Texas serve one municipality only, while only over 6% of respondents answered that their ESD serves three municipalities or more. Therefore, ESD 1 serves three municipalities and this is a large number for one ESD to serve. The large number of municipalities served by ESD 1 is a risk factor and the driver of the enormous pressure on ESD 1 which its employees have to address.

The study also reveals another issue since a large part of ESD personnel is not involved in the emergency management programs of municipalities they serve. This means the lack of involvement of ESD staff into the emergency management of their municipalities that leads to the gap between ESD and municipality emergency management programs.

At the same time, mayors and city managers admitted that all municipalities have the emergency operations plan. However, ESDs are not involved into the emergency operations plan developed by municipalities because of the lack of collaboration between them and the non-involvement of the ESD 1 into emergencies programs developed by the three municipalities, where the ESD 1 operates.

Furthermore, half of the plans developed by municipalities are reviewed once a year or once in two years. The overwhelming majority of mayors and city managers have reviewed their emergency operations plans (75% of mayors and city managers have already done so). At the same time, only 25% of mayors and city managers are satisfied with their emergency operations plans that means the high level of dissatisfaction with those plans in municipalities’ management. As a rule, mayors and city managers are not involved in emergency exercises that makes their results similar to those of ESDs, including the ESD 1.Mayors and city managers recognize that the Emergency Management Coordinator (EMC) should meet with other departments or agencies to review and update the Emergency Operations Plan at least annually or even more often semi-annually.

The most effective way to communicate with the public during a large scale event is CodeRED Notification System, followed by Lago Radio 1670AM and Facebook. Mayors and city managers believe that table top exercises should be conducted at least once in two year or one year or even more often every half a year. At the same time, full-scale exercises should be conducted once a year or every two years. Mayors and city managers admitted that they are very likely to support the effort to establish an Emergency Operations Center (ECO) located on the north shore and shared by the City of Lago Vista, City of Jonestown, Village of Point Venture, and Travis County ESD 1/7.

Discussion

The current study has revealed the fact that the ESD personnel do not serve in a position within the municipalities emergency management program and this is a serious problem for the integration of Travis County ESD 1 into the emergency management programs that exist and are functional in the three municipalities ESD 1 is responsible for. As ESD employees do not hold an position in local emergency management programs, they stay aside of those programs and do not participate in them. In case of emergency, ESD 1 will be disintegrated from emergency management programs developed by municipalities and the staff of ESD 1 will be unable to integrate fast into the emergency management plan executed by municipalities. Such a situation is dangerous because the effectiveness of ESD 1 as the emergency agency decreases. Instead of the close integration into existing emergency programs and plans, ESD1 will stay aside of existing emergency management plans and fail to interact with municipalities. The overall emergency response will be ineffective in such a case compared to the consolidate response of ESD 1 and municipalities along with other emergency agencies, if they were integrated into emergency management plans.

ESD does not receive funding from a municipality specifically for emergency management and this is probably the major reason for the low collaboration between ESDs and local municipalities. In this regard, ESD 1 also does not receive the funding from local municipalities that is also an important factor of the lack of involvement of ESD professionals into emergency management plans and programs developed by municipalities. As ESD does not receive funding from municipalities, ESD is not financially liable to municipalities and the involvement of ESD in municipality emergency management programs may be viewed by ESD as investment into municipalities and financial support of municipalities and their emergency management programs. As ESD is dependent on funding and does not earn income on its own, then ESD is unwilling to invest into other agencies or municipalities as long as such investments do not meet ESD’s interests and are not determined by the necessity of ESD to perform its functions properly.  

The staff of Travis County ESD 1 is not very familiar with the roles and responsibilities of emergency management for the cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture. Therefore, employees of ESD 1 do not know professionals and city managers responsible for the emergency management as well as other professionals involved in emergency management operations. As a result, in case of emergency, ESD 1 will be unable to interact with municipalities effectively and professionals working on the emergency management operations plan in the three municipalities and responding to the emergency, when it strikes, will not receive any support from the part of ESD 1 staff as well as they will not be able to support ESD 1 in return because professionals working at ESD 1 do not know their roles and responsibilities. Such a situation is threatening to the overall effectiveness of the emergency management because, if employees of ESD 1 at least knew roles and responsibilities of emergency management for the three municipalities ESD 1 is responsible for, they would be able to contact professionals and city managers immediately, when an emergency occurs and start collaborating with them. Instead, if the current situation remains unchanged, there will be obvious communication gap and lack of interaction between ESD 1 and municipalities because ESD 1 employees simply do not know whom to collaborate with and what roles and responsibilities of emergency management city managers and other public employees perform.

Furthermore, the current study has revealed the fact that the majority of employees of the Travis County ESD 1 have not reviewed the emergency operations plan for Travis County or the Cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, or the Village of Point Venture. The failure of employees of ESD 1 to review the emergency operations plan for Travis County and the three municipalities is likely to lead to negative consequences, if an emergency occurs. Reviews of emergency management operations plan are essential to keep the plan up-to-date. If emergency management operations plans are not reviewed, they become obsolete. As a result, ESD 1 as well as other emergency agencies cannot address emergencies effectively because their plans do not match existing risks and threats that the emergency management plan has to address. For example, today, the three municipalities ESD 1 is responsible for experience the growing number of fires which increase risks and threats to the property and civilians in the municipalities. If employees of ESD 1 do not review the emergency management operations plan, they still consider that the three municipalities have the same risk of fires, while, in reality, such risks have already multiplied and will increase even more in the future. When an emergency occurs, ESD 1 will come unprepared. For example, ESD 1 may fail to cope with a growing number of fires. Hence, ESD 1 will face the gap between its preparedness to confront the emergency, such as fire, and the scope of the threat of the emergency, such as fires. Therefore, reviews of emergency management operations plans have to be regular, while the lack of such reviews reveals the unpreparedness and disengagement of ESD 1 into emergency management operations plans and the overall low preparedness of ESD 1 to emergencies in the Cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, or the Village of Point Venture.

Another disturbing issue that reveals the low preparedness of ESD 1 for the emergency management is a small part of the Travis County ESD 1 has ever participated in an exercise involving emergency management. Exercises are pivotal for the preparedness of the staff for effective actions in the time of emergency in terms of the emergency management plan. Exercises are essential for the development of skills and clear and concise plan of actions of employees of ESD 1 in the time of emergency. If they have training and exercises, they know what to do and how to act, when an emergency strikes. At the moment, employees of ESD 1 suffer from the lack of exercises, while only a small part of employees have had such exercises. Therefore, a larger part of ESD 1 will come unprepared to the emergency. What they know about emergency and what ESD 1 has planned so far, remains unexercised, untrained and, therefore, unfamiliar for employees in practical terms. They have not exercised the response to emergency and, when the time of emergency comes, they may simply fail to respond adequately and according to the plan. Therefore, the unpreparedness of employees of ESD 1 to emergency is evident.

The ESD 1 serves three municipalities, while the majority of other ESDs in Texas serve only one municipality that raises the problem of the work overload and considerable difficulties ESD 1 can face with serving three municipalities instead of one as other ESDs do. The large number of municipalities also raises barriers to the effective implementation of the emergency management operations plan. Each municipality has its own specificities and ESD 1 should adapt to each municipality needs and specificities. Also ESD 1 has to employ more professionals than other ESDs do to serve a larger number of municipalities. The larger staff raises the problem of its effective management, training and other issues which ultimately lead to the low preparedness of the staff to emergency management. The shortage of professionals raises the problem of the effectiveness of ESD 1’s response to the emergency because ESD 1 has to allocate resources effectively and send as much professionals as needed to the municipality under the impact of the emergency. However, if two or three municipalities are under the impact of an emergency, like a natural disaster, ESD 1 may face the problem of the shortage of professionals to respond to the emergency.

The study also reveals the better preparedness of municipalities to emergency compared to ESD 1. Mayors and city managers review their emergency operations plans on the regular basis but only 25% of them are satisfied with their emergency operations plans. This means that there is a problem in their emergency operations management plans which though they cannot resolve. In this regard, the lack of the collaboration with the ESD 1 may be the root problem because emergency operations management plans reviewed by municipalities are ineffective without the backup and coordination with the ESD 1. The dissatisfaction of mayors and city managers with their emergency management operations plans is the result of the low effectiveness of those plans, while ESD 1 has resources and professionals, who could have contributed to the enhancement of emergency management operations plan developed by municipalities. However, at the moment, the collaboration between ESD 1 is low. Hence, municipalities elaborate good and effective emergency management operations plans but they lack resources, professionals and capabilities to implement them, while ESD 1 has resources and professionals but does not collaborate with municipalities and its employees stay aside of those plans, while ESD 1 is disintegrated from emergency management operations plans developed by the municipalities.         

The most effective way to communicate with the public during a large scale event is CodeRED Notification System, followed by Lago Radio 1670AM and Facebook, according to municipalities. This means that the ESD 1 should also use these channels of communication to reach the public in case of emergency. However, at the moment, the EDS 1 does not collaborate with municipalities to unite their communication channels to reach the public and communicate important information effectively. The use of different channels of communication creates the risk of the failure of communicating the emergency signal to the public as well as widens communication gaps between emergency agencies. In such a situation, it is the public that is likely to suffer the most from such miscommunication between ESD 1 and municipalities because, if ESD 1 uses a different communication channel to inform about the emergency situation, the public may just fail to understand it right, while municipalities may fail to re-interpret and communicate the signal to the public in time. In case of emergency, every minute matters and emergency agencies should never waste time, while this is exactly what the miscommunication and the use of different communication channels are likely to bring to Travis County and unpreparedness of ESD 1 to use the same information channels as municipalities do.

As mayors and city managers are not involved in emergency exercises that make their results similar to those of ESDs, including the ESD 1, their preparedness for an emergency situation is low because without exercises they cannot come prepared to confront the emergency effectively. Exercises and drills are essential for the development of the emergency response experience and for the effective preparation of the staff to respond to the emergency almost automatically, when everyone knows what to do and how to act. The lack of exercises in municipalities raises the problem of the low preparedness to emergencies just as is the case of employees of ESD 1. At the same time, ESD 1 and the three municipalities have qualified staff that can conduct the training and train employees of both ESD 1 and municipality.

Mayors and city managers believe that table top exercises should be conducted at least once in two year or one year or even more often every half a year while full-scale exercises should be conducted once a year or every two years. Such frequency is comfortable for municipalities and helps them to come prepared to emergencies. However, the ESD 1 does not have such plan of exercises and there is obvious shortage of exercises of the ESD 1’s staff. Therefore, there is obvious need for training and exercising of professionals working at the ESD 1 as well as there is the same need in municipalities. As training is essential for the preparedness of the staff for emergencies , the lack of exercises leads to the poor emergency management and the high risk of the failure of ESD 1 and municipalities to respond to emergency effectively.

The fact that mayors and city managers admitted that they are very likely to support the effort to establish an Emergency Operations Center (ECO) located on the north shore and shared by the City of Lago Vista, City of Jonestown, Village of Point Venture, and Travis County ESD 1/7 reveals their readiness to collaborate. Therefore, the ESD 1 just has to make the first step toward municipalities and start closer cooperation with them in the field of the emergency management. The ESD 1 has to make more efforts in the enhancement of the emergency operations management in the three municipalities and the collaboration with city management is essential. The readiness of city managers to help the three municipalities means that they may count on the support of other municipalities but there is also the ESD 1 which may also be very helpful but, at the moment, the ESD 1 remains absolutely disintegrated from the municipalities’ emergency operations management plans. 

Recommendations

Travis County ESD 1 has to develop closer cooperation with municipalities to take part in the development and implementation of emergency operations management plans. The involvement of the staff of Travis County ESD 1 into the development of emergency operations management plans can help employees of ESD 1 come prepared to the implementation of such plans and increases the effectiveness of collaboration between ESD 1, municipalities and other emergency agencies in Travis County. Employees of ESD 1 should focus on the development and implementation of emergency operations management plan to come prepared to emergencies along with municipalities’ staff. They understand those emergency plans and know what they have to do, if an emergency occurs. The wider involvement of ESD 1 into the emergency management and emergency management planning will increase the effectiveness of ESD 1 and its cooperation with municipal emergency management agencies.

Employees working at ESD 1 have to collaborate with municipalities and hold a position in municipality emergency programs to be able to interact with municipalities effectively and to make EDS 1 staff aware of municipality emergency management programs. The collaboration between ESD 1 and municipalities contributes to their mutual preparedness to emergencies because they learn to interact with each other at the stage of planning their response to emergencies. They also learn to communicate with each other and steadily the work as a solid body. As a result, when an emergency strikes, ESD 1 and municipalities have already got the experience and methodology of their mutual work on emergency management planning. Hence, they can use their positive experience of collaboration in their mutual response to the particular emergency they confront.

In addition, the staff of EDS 1 should learn the roles and responsibilities of emergency management for the cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture to be able to understand what agencies are responsible for emergency management and what specific functions each agency involved in the emergency management performs. The adequate understanding of the roles and responsibilities in the emergency management will help to develop the effective interaction between ESD 1 and the three municipalities because employees of ESD 1 will know functions and tasks city professionals and agencies are responsible for. They will know what professionals perform specific roles in case of emergency. Each professional will know his/her personal duties, functions and responsibilities. In such a way, they will focus on their specific functions and contact professionals from municipalities and other emergency agencies that they need to interact with. If the current situation persists, communication gaps will persist inevitably and employees of EST 1 will be just unable to contact city professionals to coordinate their actions and response to the emergency effectively.

Travis County ESD 1 has to review its emergency management plan on the regular basis at least once a year and to coordinate the plan with municipalities to comply with their emergency operations management plans. Emergency management plans cannot be static in the rapidly changing environment. Instead, they have to be dynamic as the world, where those plans are implemented. In case of Travis County fast changes are particularly obvious. The current study has revealed the consistent rise of the number of fire calls within the last couple of years which occurred due to the fast economic and technological progress of the county. In such a situation, the emergency management plan cannot remain unchanged in light of such considerable progress of the local community. For example, if the number of fire calls increased by 20%, then the emergency management plan needs review so that ESD 1 and other emergency agencies have come prepared to address the increased risk of fires. If ESD 1 and municipalities do not introduce changes and do not review their emergency management plans, then there is a risk of the widening gap between actual needs of local communities and actual risks, on the one hand, and the actual preparedness of ESD 1 and municipalities to emergencies. Such gaps will lead to the inability of ESD 1 and municipalities to respond to the emergency adequately because of the under-estimation of risks and the inadequate assessment of those risks in their emergency management plans. Therefore, ESD 1 as well as municipalities have to review their emergency management plans regularly, preferably on the annual basis to ensure that their emergency management plan complies with changes in local communities, such as their technological and economic progress, environmental changes, and other issues.

In addition, ESD 1 has to collaborate closely with the three municipalities in terms of the development of emergency management plans and the mutual response to emergencies because their cooperation is essential in terms of the development of effective emergency management plans and effective response to any emergency. The collaboration between ESD 1 and the municipalities is an essential condition of the effective emergency management because they all focus on the emergency management and they do participate in response to emergencies that occur within the three municipalities. This is why the coordination of their actions and their collaboration defines the overall effectiveness of the emergency management. The current study has revealed the lack of the collaboration and the need to enhance the collaboration between Travis County ESD 1 and the three municipalities. The disintegration of ESD 1 from emergency management operations plans of the three municipalities lead to the disorganization of the emergency management. When ESD 1 and municipalities have different emergency management plans and act on their own, the effectiveness of their efforts decreases because their functions may overlap and they may perform the same functions simultaneously. Instead, the closer integration and the wider participation of ESD 1 into emergency management operations plans and the overall emergency management helps to maximize the effectiveness of their response to an emergency as well as to prevent emergencies effectively. The integration and wider participation of ESD 1 into the elaboration, review, exercises and implementation of emergency management plans of the cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture which ESD 1 is responsible for. The wider involvement of ESD 1 allows ESD 1 and the municipalities to unite their efforts in response to an emergency. They will be able to avoid function overlapping and coordinate their actions to maximize their effectiveness in response to an emergency. They will be also able to communicate closely and effectively that also may increase the effectiveness of the emergency management. United efforts of ESD 1 and the municipalities can maximize the overall effectiveness of the emergency management in Travis County.

As ESD 1 serves three municipalities, while the majority of other ESDs in Texas serve only one municipality, it is possible to create an extra ESD to meet needs of the three municipalities.  Recently, the creation of ESD 7 has been announced to enhance EDS 1 and this is the right step toward the enhancement of the emergency management in Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture. The introduction of new ESD will help ESD 1 to cope with the work overload and burden of emerging risks associated with the accelerated technological and economic development of the municipalities. ESD 1 and ESD 7 can address emergencies more effectively than ESD 1 alone. One ESD for three fast growing municipalities is not enough to address current problems and emerging risks. ESD 7 will enhance ESD 1 and help EDS 1 to cope with existing challenges. On the other hand, the problem of the disintegration of ESD 1 persists that means that, even the introduction of ESD 7 will not maximize the effectiveness of the emergency management in the cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture, unless ESD starts closer cooperation with the municipalities and integrate into municipalities’ emergency management plans.

Therefore, the main recommendation is the ESD 1 has to follow is close cooperation with municipalities and its wider involvement in their emergency operations management plans to make those plans effective. The closer integration of ESD 1 into municipal emergency management operations plans and the development of emergency management strategy along with the close collaboration in the time of emergencies will help to reach positive outcomes in addressing challenges associated with emergencies, minimize risks of emergencies and help to make the emergency response more effective that it is now. United efforts of ESD 1 and the cities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Village of Point Venture will help to maximize the effectiveness of the emergency management in Travis County, while, at the moment, ESD 1 remains being disintegrated from municipalities’ emergency management plans, while neither ESD 1 staff nor municipalities’ employees have sufficient and regular exercises and reviews of emergency management operations plans to confront emergencies effectively. This means that ESD 1 as well as the three municipalities come unprepared to emergencies and ESD 1 should take a proactive stand and enhance its involvement and participation in Travis County emergency management.

In this regard, communication between ESD 1 and the municipalities plays a particularly important part but now there are wide communication gaps between them. The most effective way to communicate with the public during a large scale event is CodeRED Notification System, followed by Lago Radio 1670AM and Facebook and ESD 1 and municipalities should create the united information system that would help them to use these channels of communication to reach the public. Also it is possible to recommend ESD 1 as well as municipalities to develop online communication, on the one hand, and promote Lago Radio 1670AM among community members to make them aware of this communication channel in case of emergency.

Also, ESD 1 should provide employees with intensive training and exercises which can help them to come prepared to emergency situations whenever and wherever they happen. Training is the key factor that defines the overall preparedness of employees of ESD 1 as well as employees of the municipalities and other emergency agencies to come prepared and respond to emergencies. Untrained professionals cannot respond to an emergency effectively. Moreover, there is a risk of employees being unable to respond to an emergency, even if they have the clear plan of action because they have not exercised the emergency response before the emergency has struck. Training and regular exercises make employees come prepared to emergencies. Employees, who have extensive exercises and training, come prepared to emergencies because they exercised the response to emergencies over and over again. As a result, when an emergency strikes, they simply do what they always did during exercises. Their actions are almost automatic. They do not waste time, but respond to the emergency immediately. They know what they have to do and each employee knows his/her duties, functions and responsibilities and does them well because those actions are well-trained.

Another recommendation concerns the collaboration between ESD 1 and municipalities. Since municipalities are ready to do their best and to help the municipality in need, the ESD 1 should also take a pro-active stand and offer its help to municipalities in the emergency management. The collaboration should involve all aspects of emergency management from planning to exercises and ultimate response to emergencies. First, ESD 1 and the municipalities should work on the elaboration of emergency management operations plans and review those plans on the regular basis. As they develop emergency management plans together they know what agency and what professional is responsible for the specific function and what roles they have to perform in case of emergency. They should also develop effective communication channels to maintain the effective communication at all stages of emergency management, including planning, emergency response, or recovery stage. Employees of ESD 1 and the three municipalities should have regular exercises and review their emergency plans, at least once a year to keep pace with the fast progressing technology, changing economic situation and environment.

ESD 1 and municipalities may also unite their efforts in the development of regular training and exercises which should be conducted at least once a year and engage professionals of both ESD 1 and municipalities. Such exercises will help them to collaborate effectively and to learn how to interact with each other in the time of emergency. Mutual exercises will be very helpful for the development of closer ties between ESD 1 and municipalities and facilitate their interaction in case of the emergency. Mutual training will help ESD 1 and the municipalities to train their actions in case of emergency and redistribute functions and roles fast. If an emergency strikes, they will simply use their experience which they have acquired in the course of exercises to respond to an emergency. The more they exercise together, the more prepared employees of ESD 1 and the municipalities come to confront emergencies successfully.

References

Haddow, G., Bullock,J., and Coppola, D.P. (2017). Introduction to Emergency Management. New York: Elsevier.

Alexander, D. (2002). Principles of Emergency planning and Management. Harpenden: Terra Publishing.

Cuny, F. C. (1983). Disasters and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haddow, G. D. and Bullock, J. A. (2004). Introduction to Emergency Management. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Phillips, B. D., Neal, D.M., and Webb, G. (2015). Introduction to Emergency Management CRC Press. Kindle Edition.

Walle, B. Van De, Turoff, M., and Hiltz, S.R. (2014). Information Systems for Emergency Management. New York: Routledge.

Waugh, W.L. Jr. (2016). Living with Hazards Dealing with Disasters. New York: Routledge.

Wisner, B. et al. (2004). At Risk – Natural hazards, people’s vulnerability and disasters. Wiltshire: Routledge.

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