Smith County report determines natural disaster hazards, prevention plan

Smith County report determines natural disaster hazards, prevention plan

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - The Smith County Office of Emergency Management has completed a months-long process of updating the county's hazard mitigation plan.

"For this plan, the Steering Committee considered the full range of natural hazards that could impact the planning area and then listed hazards that present the greatest concern to the county," the report states. The committee responsible for the report met three times between June and December 2017, working with the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Smith County's plan was last updated and approved by FEMA in 2011, and the document says that is why Smith County OEM decided to develop "a completely new plan."

The federal Disaster Mitigation Act, passed in 2000, requires counties to file a plan showing a pro-active approach to disasters in order to be eligible for federal disaster grants, as well as disaster recovery grants after a disaster strikes.

This plan is only a draft, pending submission and approval. Read the full plan here.

What is it?

The nearly 400-page document is both a question and an answer. Should a natural disaster happen in Smith County, what kind of response would we be capable of providing?

After outlining what type of disaster Smith County is most at-risk for experiencing, the committee established a list of what resources are in place in which city.

The committee then made recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of loss of life, injury and property damage during severe storms, tornadoes, droughts, floods, and wildfires. The plan also includes a review of natural and man-made systems in the county, such as dams.

When these pieces of information are put together, the draft creates a 5-year plan, from 2018 to 2022.

What threats were identified?

Drought, extreme heat, and severe storms with lightning, hail and high winds were identified as primary hazards due to their common occurrence in Smith County.

The report states that Smith County experienced drought six of the past 10 years.

"On average, Smith County and the participating jurisdictions have experienced 95 days per year where temperatures exceed 90°F so the probability of extreme heat events is expected to be very likely in any given year," the report states.

The hazard mitigation plan for drought includes better informing the public about available insurance, using drought and extreme heat resistant plants around county buildings to minimize water usage, and implementing water conservation measures at city and county buildings and in homes should it become necessary.

On the other side of the spectrum to consider is too much rain.

Of the 112 dams across Smith County, the majority (54) are in the City of Hideaway, making that city most at-risk for dam failure hazard.  Eight dams in the county are classified as high-hazard, 15 as significant-hazard, and 89 are classified as low hazard. Two are listed as unknown.

"The City of Hideaway ranked the probability as high, meaning a dam failure is likely to occur within the next 25 years since it is a lake community with two high-hazard dams," the report states.

Recommendations include working with homeowners were private dams are in place and removing trees from earthen dams on Hideaway Lakes No. 2 and 3 to stop erosion and assist with soil adhesion.

After threats were identified, the team came up with recommendations to lessen the hazard. Responses are color-coded red, yellow and green based on the amount of hazard the change would alleviate.

For example, a red-coded recommendation is described as "An additional outdoor warning siren is needed near the downtown area. Purchase and install one."

Overall, the committee also determined every volunteer fire department in the county needs a backup generator, and that every school, business and critical facility needs to be equipped with an NOAA All-Hazard radio.

What capabilities do we have?

The report requires a "hazard mitigation capabilities assessment" for each city in Smith County. Officials responded to a list of ordinances, codes and plans with either yes or no, and comments on each.

Officials evaluated legal and regulatory resources, as well as administrative and technical capabilities, for each city in the county. Basically, this means they looked at what kind of resources are available, and what plans are in place, in the event of a disaster.

One part of that survey involves the number of outdoor warning sirens within each city, and around the county.

Bullard, Noonday, and Hideaway have none, Troup has two, Arp has one, and the City of Tyler has 32. The plan calls for an additional siren to be added near downtown Tyler within 48 months.

What did people say?

The plan was formed with information from 249 responses to a voluntary questionnaire.

The 36 questions were designed to gauge the level of knowledge local residents have about disaster issues and to identify any vulnerable areas.

Respondents were primarily 41 to 60 years of age, primarily English speaking, 57 percent reported as female and 43 percent as male. 42 percent said they held a college degree, and 56 percent said they had lived in Smith County for more than 20 years. About 83 percent owned their own home.

For example, one question asked respondents if they have flood insurance, to which 72 percent of the respondents said no.

Forty-one percent of respondents were unsure if their property is located near an earthquake fault. However just under 3 percent of respondents said they have earthquake insurance.

When asked what kinds of projects they believe county, state and federal government agencies should be doing in order to reduce damage and disruption from hazard events in Smith County, the majority chose work on infrastructure, including roads, bridges, drainage and water supply, followed closely by strengthening essential facilities such as police, fire, schools and hospitals.

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