GALVESTON — Charlie Kelly was in Galveston during Hurricane Ike. But now, almost six years after the storm made landfall and devastated much of the island, he knows that he’s part of a shrinking group.
“A lot of the core people that we have, they haven’t been though a hurricane,” Kelly, Galveston’s emergency management coordinator, said Wednesday. “They have been through the training. We train every year.”
The city held a town hall meeting Wednesday night as much to educate the public as affirm that the city is ready for when the next hurricane strikes. Various agencies
While emergency management officials said that they were relieved that another major storm has not hit the island since Ike, it has become increasingly apparent that the next major storm will be a first for most of the people that work for the City of Galveston.
At the beginning of 2014, the city employed 736 people, according to payroll records obtained by The Daily News. Of those people, 436 were after hired Sept. 13, 2008, the day Hurricane Ike made landfall.
It’s an issue, Kelly said, that is emblematic of some the population shift that Galveston County has experienced in the years since Ike hit.
“You talk to some of the young population, they say they want to experience a storm,” Kelly said. “Because in their mind, all they’ve ever seen is a hurricane party.”
Counteracting those notions of safety is part of the reason Wednesday’s event was held. The town hall meeting included speakers from various agencies — the National Weather Service, the Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation — who reviewed their roles should another storm come. Those agencies and others also lined a meeting room with tables manned by representatives who answered questions.
But what goes largely unseen is the training that employees go through annually. Before the town hall meeting, Kelly said, about 30 city employees participated in a county-wide hurricane drill that walked through a worst-case scenario situation, a fast-developing storm in the Gulf.
Kelly said nearly every city employee receives some sort of disaster planning, even to the lowest levels. Parks and recreation employees, for instance, are prepared to act as bus monitors for the caravan that would transport evacuees to shelters in Austin ahead of a storm.
City leaders are also quick to point out that not every new hire in Galveston is inexperienced with dealing with storms.
Interim city manager Brian Maxwell, who himself worked for Galveston County during Hurricane Ike, pointed to recent city hires as an example: new city engineer Ross Blackketter, who previously worked in Port Arthur, and John Simsen, the city’s new disaster recovery director, who previously worked as the county’s emergency management coordinator.
“Everybody that is in a leadership position has dealt with a hurricane already,” Maxwell said. “They’ve just done it in a different place.”
The Atlantic Hurricane season begins Sunday.
Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.