Texas’ Emergency Response Team is Second to None
As always, I'm honored to be among so many who dedicate so much of their time and efforts to the benefit of their fellow Texans.
There's a proverb often attributed to the Chinese: "May you live in interesting times."
Well, knowing some of the disaster situations you all have seen in your line of work, I think we can all agree there's something to that proverb.
The men and women in this room do a very difficult job in very trying circumstances, and I know I speak on behalf of all Texans when I say we are both aware, and appreciative of that fact.
In a state the size of Texas there's always a surprise or two waiting around the next corner.
So preparation is the key to everything.
We have to constantly plan and prepare for the next hurricane that we hope won't ever come, though we know it will.
We have to constantly plan and prepare for the next major tornado that we hope is years away when we know it can happen almost anytime.
We have to constantly plan and prepare for all types of disasters because for all the ample blessings nature has bestowed upon the greatest state in the nation, few states have to face her fury on so many fronts.
The point is, the people in this room are not in the business of knowing what you're going to be responding to, you're just in the business of responding.
That takes a special kind of mindset, a dedication to detail and an ability to adjust plans on the fly. That's all too rare a quality.
We can develop fantastic plans and try to map out all possibilities, but even the best-laid plans are worthless without the hard work and skill of those called to carry them out.
Through practice, simulation and repetition, we've honed one of the most effective and efficient emergency response teams in the country.
Truth is, there's no group of individuals I'd rather have on the other end of the line when nature is sending its worst.
This past year was one we'll never forget, as the sheer magnitude of destruction suffered in Bastrop, near Wichita Falls and outside San Angelo launched that season's wildfires into a class all their own.
I remember heading over to Bastrop last fall and seeing that great wall of smoke rising like massive storm clouds over the community, consuming the horizon as far as you can see in either direction.
More than 1,300 homes were destroyed in the Bastrop fire alone, along with tens of thousands of acres.
Statewide, wildfires destroyed more than 5,000 structures and almost 4 million acres.
For all the homes lost, businesses destroyed and ranches consumed, the amazing part is, it could have been even worse.
More than 39,000 homes in the direct line of the fires were saved, but at the rate those fires were spreading, the damage could have been far more widespread than even those numbers indicate.
Of course, holding the line between the flames and those communities were the courage and conviction of the men and women on the ground, our able first responders, local officials and volunteers, the Texas Military Forces and various state agencies, along with our private sector partners.
Each has a role to play, each has a part in the plan and each is as valuable as any other in making sure our plans are executed as effectively as possible.
Of course, we need to have the right equipment in place, as well, but unfortunately, there's a plan brewing in Washington that might make all your jobs a bit tougher.
As part of a redeployment plan, the Air Force is considering relocating the eight C-130s assigned to the 136th Airlift Wing, currently based in Fort Worth to Montana.
I don't have to tell anyone in this room how important those planes are to emergency efforts here in Texas and in states throughout the Gulf Coast.
Those C-130s were among the first to arrive in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, carrying much-needed supplies and assistance.
They were critical to our preparations for Hurricane Ike and Gustav, helping evacuate 800 hospital patients and nursing home residents prior to landfall.
In fact, since 2005, these planes have flown 423 storm response sorties in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, transporting more than 3,000 passengers and delivering 939tons of emergency supplies.
As long as they're in Fort Worth, they can be deployed within hours as part of the Texas Air National Guard with a simple phone call.
Move them to Montana, however and they're desperately out of reach at times when, literally, every minute counts.
Now, I've had some disagreements with Washington from time to time, but this suggestion ranks among the worst ideas I've heard in the recent past.
My fellow Gulf Coast governors, our Congressional delegations and I will continue the fight to keep these planes where they are...where they can do the most good in Texas and beyond.
But we all know that in the disaster business, our work is never done.
We still have hurricanes to prepare for, a drought to deal with and a tornado season that's just getting warmed up.
In fact, we're just a couple of weeks removed from a tornado that struck not too far from here in Devine, and we still have a sizeable chunk of the season to go.
And unfortunately, despite recent rains, the drought continues and the threat of another outbreak of wildfires this summer looms.
The men and women in this room know better than anyone that our success at responding to all these types of disasters is a direct result of continuing to adapt and refine our system and our refusal to ever take anything for granted or accept anything but the best.
This conference, as always, reflects a golden opportunity for us to review the events of the past year, figure out what worked well or what didn't work so well, and decide what lessons can be learned.
It's an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to deepening our cooperation with authorities on the local level, those who truly understand what their communities need during times of crisis and the best way to distribute those resources.
It's an opportunity to expand our communication abilities, which are already a major focus in our disaster planning efforts.
In short, this conference is an opportunity to make everything we do that much better, which results in getting disaster victims the things they need that much faster and deploying critical resources to save lives that much more efficiently.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: our emergency response team takes a backseat to nobody.
Thank you all for being here and for the important work you do...both here and back home in your communities.
If I can offer even the slightest bit of advice, and it's probably unnecessary given this group, but don't be shy about speaking your mind at this conference.
By making your position known, you'll be calling attention to concerns that are best dealt with now and not when we're staring down a Category 5 monster off the coastline.
One again, the State of Texas thanks you for all your efforts. We are all safer because of what you do.
May God bless you, and through you, may He continue to bless the Great State of Texas.
Assistant Director, Texas Department of Public Safety
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