911 Inundated: Hurricane Harvey Rescue Operations

Sheltering in place for Hurricane Harvey led to local 911 systems being inundated with rescue calls. The city prepares for receding hurricane floodwaters.
Image: AP Photo/LM Otero

Local officials dealing with Hurricane Harvey emergency management requested the public’s help with rescue operations as 911 systems became inundated.

Overnight the rains from Hurricane Harvey, which became a category 4 hurricane as it made landfall, began to subside, and in some areas of Harris County, Texas, flood waters are beginning too also. But in other areas, particularly neighborhoods near two reservoirs operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, subdivisions are still being evacuated, according to coordinated updates from various officials.

Instead of evacuation, the county and city of Houston prepared ahead of the storm to coordinate rescue operations and sheltering efforts, but its 911 system became over-inundated with calls as the waters rose to life threatening levels by Sunday.

Hurricane Harvey Rescue Operations Required the Public’s Help

Coordinated efforts organized under the Harris County Fire Marshall’s Office reported:

ReadyHarris, the Harris County, Texas, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency organized under County Judge Ed Emmett, was asking the public in possession of and certified to use boats and high water vehicles to assist first responders with rescues on Sunday.

The 911 call centers were flooded with calls, and state support had been unable to get to the region until Monday, and made the request to get more people rescued during daylight hours.

“Neighbors help neighbors,” said Emmett in the Sunday press conference, as he gave out a telephone number for rescuers with groups of people needing shelter to call.


The request for public assistance in rescue operations:

Harris County Flood Relief Efforts Underway

Today, now that state assets have arrived in the hard-hit Houston area, the county is no longer organizing volunteer rescues. Emmett said staff is organizing buses to transfer people rescued from high water to higher ground to the shelters, among myriad other assessment and recovery tasks.

County offices along with ambulatory clinics and pharmacy locations are closed today, according to Harris Health Systems Twitter account.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it had deployed more than 1,800 staff, 1 million meals, 1 million liters of drinking water and 14 search and rescue teams, among other resources.

Ready Harris announced that Volunteer Houston had launched a virtual Volunteer Reception Center to aid in Houston flood relief efforts.

Today’s update on flood evacuations:

State Leadership Creates Confusion Ahead of Hurricane Harvey

According to the local ABC affiliate, residents of the Houston region were confused when Texas Governor Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged anyone on the Gulf Coast who could to evacuate, and local officials were frustrated.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday tweeted, “please think twice before trying to leave Houston en masse.” Francisco Sanchez, the public information officer and official leading technical innovation for Ready Harris, tweeted: “LOCAL LEADERS KNOW BEST.”

According to a local publication, CultureMap Houston, the top city and county officials quickly released statements after the Governor suggested evacuation, advising residents to shelter in place.

“If we wanted to call an evacuation, we wouldn’t even know where to call it,” Emmett said, “cause we don’t know where the rain’s going to fall and which watersheds are going to be affected. So there is absolutely no reason to evacuate from Houston or the greater Houston area.”

Turner said, “For Houston, Harris County, the county judge and I both agreed that for us this was a major rainfall event and so there was no need to evacuate. We are asking people to stay off the streets,” Turner said.

Quite frankly, leaving your homes, getting on the streets, you’ll be putting yourself in more danger and not making yourself safer. And so, we’re just asking people to hunker down.”

In 2005, the threat of Hurricane Rita flooded Texas roadways, which led to dozens of car-related deaths, according to the Washington Post. That hurricane ended up bypassing the area.

For Hurricane Harvey, sheltering in place resulted in an explosion of Snap Chat social network uploads that could be viewed live via the app’s map news feature, according to a member of the company’s team.

It’s too soon to tell how Harris County and city of Houston handled the emergency response, who made the right calls and which infrastructure failed. But we’re interested to see how tools like the county’s emergency app helped inform residents sheltering in place during Hurricane Harvey, and how it’s public safety broadband network improved emergency management operations.

Get 3 EMS keys for Hurricane Harvey on EMS1.com.

Houston Flood Control Fell Behind with Sprawl

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.