Austin and Conroe, May 24 – State Representative Will Metcalf, Republican of Conroe, had a great day yesterday in the 86th Texas Legislature when he succeeded at passing two important pieces of legislation to require government agencies to provide early warning to residents and businesses downstream from dams during disasters and to provide accurate information during disasters. Both bills, House Bill 26 and House Bill 2325, are on their way to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk for signature and arise from the Hurricane Harvey disaster when the San Jacinto River Authority failed to prepare adequately or provide sufficient warning to residents down stream from the Lake Conroe Dam.
Metcalf told The Golden Hammer last night, “”We learned many lessons during Hurricane Harvey. But the most enduring is that no matter how we disagree, how we compete, Texans came together in the end to help each other regardless of danger or odds. I look forward to Governor Abbott signing both of these important pieces of legislation into law soon.”
House Bill 26: Dam notification
House Bill 26, which passed the Texas House of Representatives yesterday on a 141 to 0 vote, requires that all gate controlled dam owners/operators maintain a notice requirement in their emergency action plans under Texas Commission on Environmental Quality oversight. Dam owners/operators would be required to notify local offices of emergency management in communities downstream when a release is made from the dam. The local offices of emergency management, when it is determined that flooding may result, will then be required to send notice out by all available means to the public.
“During different disaster scenarios, there have been releases from dams with little to no warning for residents, property owners, and businesses down stream,” said Metcalf. “I believe House Bill 26 will provide an effective and potentially life saving process for providing warnings during flood events.”
Metcalf had previously explained in the bill analysis, “Texas needs a more effective warning system to give individuals who live downstream from a dam a better chance to save lives and property and mitigate flood damage.”
Four other House members, including Representative Dan Huberty, Republican of Kingwood, co-authored the legislation with Metcalf.
Senators Robert Nichols, Republican of Tyler, and Brandon Creighton, Republican of Conroe, were the Senate sponsors of the bill, which passed the Texas Senate on a 31 to 0 vote on May 17.
House Bill 2325: Communication requirements for disaster response
House Bill 2325, which passed the Texas House yesterday on a 137 to 3 vote, mandates that the Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide critical information during disasters and set up a communications system beforehand for potential and actual disaster victims, as well as first responders, to receive information. The legislation also requires public awareness campaigns on disaster preparedness from multiple agencies and requires local emergency officials to develop a plan and publish the plan for using the state’s assistance registry, known as the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry. This registry already exists, and it allows vulnerable individuals to pre-register for assistance during any kind of disaster.
Representative Metcalf explained, “Efficient communication and the dissemination of accurate information during a disaster are vital components to effective disaster response. HB 2325 will accomplish that by standardizing communications and making sure the most up to date and accurate information is sent out.”
The Texas Senate passed HB 2325 on May 20 by a 31 to 0 vote.