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Hurricane Policy
by David Stanowski
13 November 2008


Abstract:
Hurricane Ike came ashore during the early morning of 13 September. For the next several days, the official policy of our City government was to force everyone off the Island, who had not evacuated, and to bar the return of everyone who had, for 1-2 months, due to a "health crisis"! If the populace had not rebelled against this ill-conceived policy, the Island would have been deserted from 13 September until TODAY!
Fortunately, the revolt forced the City to allow residents to return in 12 days rather than 1-2 months.

Imagine where we would stand in our recovery effort, if we had actually followed their original policy. For this reason, it is absolutely imperative that the City Council formulate a sensible "Hurricane Policy" rather than just giving City officials unlimited powers every time a hurricane threatens the City, so we can to avoid another blunder like this!


Introduction:
Most of our residents are still so involved in their own personal recovery efforts that they probably can't even think about the issue of future threats from hurricanes, but since they aren't going to go away, we need to start formulating an official City policy on how to deal with them. The risk of living in Hurricane Country is bad enough without compounding the uncertainty by not knowing what our City government will do when faced with a storm!

It is foolish to expect people to invest in residential and commercial real estate, as well as businesses, in a city where the local government is free to implement ruinous policies, in reaction to a hurricane. Even though the odds are against taking a hit, like the one from Hurricane Ike, for 20 another years, or more; those who are still trying to decide whether or not to re-invest in the City must be very unsettled about the prospect of facing the first hurricane in the Gulf, next year, if the Council doesn't develop a clear and sensible "Hurricane Policy".  


The fundamental principle underlying a sensible Hurricane Policy should be that each resident of Galveston must be allowed to make their own decision about how to deal with approaching storms. City government should provide ACCURATE information, and advise us what to do without resorting to over hyping the dangers, and dictating what we must and must not do.

People who are elderly, in poor health, physically handicapped, and who are not willing or able to have enough supplies to take care of themselves for two weeks are very poor candidates to ride out a storm; but even they should not be forced to leave, if they choose not to do so. Of course, the fundamental caveat must always be that, if you choose to stay, no emergency personnel should ever be asked to put themselves at risk to help you, if you get into trouble.  


It is not always the best course of action  to evacuate when hurricanes approach the Island. Evacuation from the areas behind the Seawall just began in recent years in reaction to the hysteria that the media now creates, and the need many government officials have to control their citizens.

Evacuations are also very costly, and can financially cripple our residents, which is another reason why our City government should give us accurate information, and not play on our fears to try to scare us off the Island. This will allow each individual to weigh their options carefully. Those who do choose to leave should be encouraged to come back as soon as they feel capable of handling the conditions that the storm created.

Obviously, anyone who returns after a hurricane should be told very clearly that they are "ENTERING AT THEIR OWN RISK", until the infrastructure is fully restored. The same is true for those who do not evacuate. After the hurricane is over, they remain in the City "
AT THEIR OWN RISK".

All recovery efforts depend primarily on the work and creativity of our 57,000 residents rather than just our 800+ City employees. Our local government
is completely off base when it looks at people wishing to return home and rebuild as a nuisance. There is absolutely no reason that the people who live here should be barred from the Island just because our City government believes it will make their job easier.


Conclusion:
The City of Galveston's policy during the crisis caused by Hurricane Ike was ill-conceived and irresponsible. We simply can not afford to have our government trying to clear the Island for 1-2 months while they take their time to clean it up, and prepare it for the return of the populace. The delays that were created in the recovery process could easily have cost residents tens of millions of dollars.

Some people got past the road block simply because they were persistent or lucky, but most got in due to favoritism. The revolt against this policy forced the City to allow everyone to return in 12 days rather than 1-2 months. Just think of what our losses would have been if the original policy was actually enforced, and we had all just returned today!!

Council needs to develop a policy that can prevent this from ever happening again! Without clear restraints on what the City officials can do in an emergency, every  investment in this City is at risk of losing significant value.

Who wants to buy a home when you can be prevented from living in it for two months, or build a business that could be shut down for the same period based solely on the whim of City officials? Does the City government think that most of our residents can afford to pay for another place to live, and to lose their employment for two months?




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