Let’s Get Ready Together: Changing How Austin Prepares for Emergencies

HSEM Director Ken

Message from the Director:

In Fiscal Year 2023, we saw an ice storm that was predicted to be mild, then grew into the second major winter storm in three years. We experienced record heat, flooding, and wildfire.
The climate is changing. So should our emergency plans.  
This report tells the story of how the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is adapting -- and helping the community adapt, too.
- Ken Snipes, HSEM Director 

About the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management 

The City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) leads emergency preparedness, response and recovery for emergencies. We work with local, state and federal organizations and agencies to protect our whole community when it is most vulnerable. 
We envision Austin becoming a more resilient city through disaster preparedness and education, because a resilient community is a prepared community. 

HSEM Helping

FY23 Department Organizational Chart:

HSEM Flow Chart

Winter Storm Mara 

Starting January 29, 2023, the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasted a limited ice accumulation of 0.10 inches. By February 3, more than an inch of freezing rain fell, resulting in 0.71 inches of ice on trees, vegetation, and power lines. This led to perilous travel conditions, widespread tree damage, and power outages. The weight of the ice caused snapped utility poles and trees, leaving at least 170,000 (30% of Austin Energy customers) without electricity, and approximately 10.5 million trees severely damaged or destroyed. Winter Storm Mara quickly grew into the second large-scale winter storm to affect Central Texas in only 3 years.
Chainsaw Removing trees
Austin HSEM collaborated with partners to respond to the storm including  Austin Resource Recovery, Austin Public Health, Parks and Recreation Department, Texas Division of Emergency Management, Texas Forestry Service, Austin Energy, Office of Resilience, Equity Office, Travis County Health and Human Services, the Austin Disaster Relief Network and many others. Together, these agencies worked to restore power and essential services to the community. 

As the recovery phase commenced, Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs) were set up to offer comprehensive recovery services to the affected community. MARCs served as centralized locations where public and private organizations collaborate to serve people affected by disasters, and provided information on debris and damage assistance, emergency preparedness, financial guidance, mental health support, and limited hot meals.  

Mara Disaster Images


Severe Weather & April Flooding

In April 2023, substantial rainfall hit the Austin area, which caused flooding in northeast and northwest Austin. To respond, a Situational Assessment Team (SAT) was established. Austin HSEM and Austin Watershed Department with the Flood Early Warning System (FEWS) teams came together in the Emergency Operations Center. There, the team continued to monitor low water crossings and flood impacts, and share up-to-date information and safety tips to the public.

Extreme Heat Response & Misting Canopy Pilot Program

Wildfire Education & Ready, Set Go!

Development of Temporary Assembly Points (TAPS) 

Extreme Heat
Meeting Place
In response to 2023 summer heat, HSEM launched the new Misting Canopy Pilot Program to help reduce heat related illness impacts. When the National Weather Service issued an Excessive Heat Warning, HSEM deployed to Republic Square Park. There, they provided tents with misting machines to give people a place to cool down. HSEM also distributed free, cold-water bottles to any community member who needed them. In 2023, the Misting Canopies program was deployed for 26 days. Through this program, HSEM distributed 19,233 bottles of water.
Additionally, HSEM created and distributed information to educate the public about how to reduce risk to themselves, their families, and their pets during the extreme heat and managed Cooling Centers in partnership with Park and Library facilities.  

Heat and dry weather brought an increase of conditions that put Central Texas at risk of wildfires, with fires in Travis County and Cedar Park causing damage and displacement of residents. HSEM worked closely with partners at Austin Fire Department’s Wildfire Division, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, and Travis County Office of Emergency Management to help community members understand and prepare for wildfire risks.  
These efforts led to the development and implement of the Ready, Set, Go! Wildfire public education campaign. This campaign educates the community about the three levels of readiness when wildfires may occur. The Ready, Set, Go! campaign was implemented during wildfire season, in both English and Spanish, and concentrated in areas identified by AFD Wildfire as the highest risk.

In response to wildfire risk, HSEM also worked with AFD’s Wildfire division and other partners to develop a Temporary Assembly Point (TAP) system.  A TAP is an initial evacuation staging area. Generally, a well-known and safe place with a large parking lot where evacuees can congregate. Using this system, when community members need to be evacuated from their homes for safety, they will first be directed to a pre-established TAP where they will “check in,” so that responders can account for all community members. Evacuees can indicate whether they are safe or need additional services, like medications or shelter. Once checked in at the TAP, evacuees will receive further instruction from first responders, and be able to proceed to their next, safe location or get more information on how to get other resources.  

Public Assistance
Disaster Cost Recovery: Public Assistance for Winter Storm Mara and COVID-19
Cost Recovery efforts from major disasters require significant time and resources for the City and are managed by HSEM. Winter Storm Mara created $47 million in city-wide damages, of which HSEM is working to recoup the FEMA eligible share of $35.4 million. Additionally, HSEM is managing citywide recovery of COVID-19 costs with the State and FEMA. This cost reimbursement is significant to the financial health of the city.
The entire portfolio of disaster recovery that HSEM currently manages represents $159 million in potential federal cost share funding with $70.7 million recovered so far on these projects. Cost recovery with FEMA requires multiple years of ongoing coordination. 

Homeland Secuity & Mitigation Support: UASI Grant Management After 13 Year Hiatus 
Austin secured a $1.5 million Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant, marking the first time since 2010 that the City has received such funding. This grant provides assistance to bolster the unique multi-discipline planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density Urban Areas. The funding supports the City of Austin and its partner jurisdictions, including Hays, Williamson, and Travis Counties, as well as the City of Round Rock. Programs funded by the grant include Election Security, Protection of Crowded Spaces, Stop the Bleed Public Education, a Bomb Making Materials Awareness Program, and the Austin Regional Intelligence Center's efforts to combat Violent Domestic Extremism. In 2023, HSEM coordinated and managed a total of $409,724 in funding through the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) for the Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department, and HSEM-supported programs. 

Grant Managment
Central Texas experienced severe drought conditions, prompting concerns about Wildfire Hazards. In response, the Texas Division of Emergency Management allocated a $2.5 million Fuels Reduction Hazard Mitigation grant. HSEM played a key role in supporting the Parks and Water departments during the grant preparation process. 

New Logistics Section Added in FY23

The HSEM Logistics Section was newly created in FY23. In addition to running the Austin-Travis County EOC Logistics Section, the Logistics Team manages the HSEM Public Safety Warehouse, manages and maintains the Mission Ready Package (MRP) program, and oversees the Disaster Reservist program. Logistics orders, distributes, manages, and demobilizes supplies and resources to support HSEM and public safety operations both during disasters and the times between disasters.

Mission Ready Packages  

Backup Generator Sites 

Mission Ready Packs
Mission Ready Packages (MRPs) are shipping containers with 48 hours of food, water, and other essential shelter supplies pre-positioned at shelter locations. After Winter Storm Uri in 2021, HSEM began proactively deploying MRPs to potential shelter sites around the city so that the supplies are on-site and ready for use if a shelter is activated. Each MRP is designed to support the emergency sheltering of approximately 100 people. This includes cots, bedding, and enough food and water for two days.  
 MRPs allow shelters to be activated quickly. This program also avoids supply chain issues that would make it difficult to get supplies to shelters.  
In FY 2023, Austin HSEM deployed a total of 9 MRPs to pre-determined locations around Austin that could serve as shelters if needed.  

In partnership with Building Services and the Parks and Recreation Department, the City has added backup generators to six potential shelter locations. In the event of power outages, those sites will still be able to function as community shelters with electricity.  
Six of the 9 MRPs are located at sites with backup generators. 

Preparedness Pop Up Event
The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management believes that a prepared community is a resilient community. We invest in an all hazards and all ages preparedness approach. Whether you are five or 95 years old, HSEM has engagement and outreach programming for everyone. 

Emergency Preparedness Calendar for Kindergarten to Eighth Grade Students

HSEM hosts a calendar art contest featuring drawings from children in the region. For the 2024 calendar, HSEM partnered with the Travis County Office of Emergency Management to engage children from kindergarten through eighth grade and their families to share what they believed to be the most important safety information. 
Calendar Winners
The calendar features artwork related to emergency preparedness, as well as action items individuals and families can accomplish for the month. The calendar showcases the importance of making a plan and discussing as a family how to prepare for emergencies. 
We look forward to continuing to partner with local young artists, schools, and after school programs who makes these important community preparedness projects possible. 

Emergency Preparedness for High School Students: Austin Corps Partnership
Emergency Preparedness for College Students: St. Edwards University Partnership  
Collaboration with UT Center for Disability Studies and FEMA Center for Disability Rights 
Highschool Kids Standing in front of EOC Wall
St Edwards University
EOC Fema colaboration
HSEM hosted high school students from several Eastside schools at CTECC to demonstrate the work the city does to prepare, respond, and recover to emergencies. Students had an opportunity to ask questions about emergency preparedness and how to find a career in emergency management.   
HSEM participated in the St. Edwards University: Annual Emergency Preparedness Student Fair. HSEM staff was able to educate hundreds of students and professors with information about the four steps of preparedness and provide emergency preparedness supplies to their student population. 
HSEM collaborated with UT’s Texas Center for Disability Studies and FEMA’s Office of Disability Rights to provide input on the HSEM and Citywide Emergency Language Access Plan. It is critical that plans include consideration for the needs of Austinites with disabilities.

Get Ready Central Texas Emergency Preparedness Fair

Preparedness Fair
Handing out Weather Radio
Preparedness Fair photo Booth
The second annual Get Ready Central Texas Emergency Preparedness Fair saw more than two dozen partners participate in educating Austinites about how to prepare before an emergency. Each partner agency showcased an interactive activity at their booth centered around emergency preparedness.  Austin Community College’s Eastview campus generously provided venue space where 150 basic emergency preparedness kits and all-weather NOAA radios were distributed to the public. This annual event is free and open to the public, and served over 250 people in 2023.

Extreme Weaterh
Meals on Wheels
Houseing Authority of the city of Austin
Extreme Weather Supply Drive: A Partnership with Utilities  
HSEM provides emergency preparedness supplies at Utility Supply Drives with Austin Water and Austin Energy. At these events, we provide potentially life-saving resources to the community. Events are held in December and June and are an opportunity for the public to learn about emergency preparedness and pick up supplies before winter weather and extreme heat.
Winter Weather Supply Drive with Meals on Wheels 
HSEM partnered with Meals on Wheels in January 2023 to distribute emergency preparedness resources for winter weather during normal meal delivery for some of Austin’s most vulnerable, homebound residents.  
Winter Weather Preparedness Training with HACA  
HSEM partnered with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) to train staff and residents on winter weather preparedness. HSEM focused training efforts on facilities with residents who are seniors and people with disabilities. The popularity of these trainings led to participation in their National Night Out events in the summer and additional trainings in 2024. 

Pop Up Events
Emergency Month Proclamation
Emergency Preparedness Pop-Up Events 
HSEM’s monthly Emergency Preparedness Pop-Up Events are one way we engage the community in becoming more prepared. These events are held at an Austin Public Library on the third Wednesday of the month in each City Council District. This provides all areas of town with the opportunity to gather information and emergency supplies from HSEM and our partners in public safety. The Pop-Ups are free and open to the public. In 2023, HSEM hosted 10 events with an average attendance of 65 people per event.  
Proclamation for National Emergency Preparedness Month
In recognition of National Emergency Preparedness Month, on September 14, 2023, Council Member Kelly proclaimed September to be Emergency Preparedness Month for the City of Austin. HSEM appreciates the support and passion for emergency preparedness from Council Member Kelly and her staff in District 6. They continue to elevate the importance of emergency preparedness to help the public have the knowledge needed to be ready in an emergency.

Collaboration with Equity Office and District 1 to Overhaul Shelter Kits with Inclusive Supplies
A 2022 Audit finding revealed shelter supply kits were not culturally inclusive. To remedy this finding, HSEM partnered with the Equity Office and District 1 to improve the supplies in personal hygiene kits distributed at shelters. Emergency shelter hygiene kits are now more inclusive with products that serve people of color and women. 
Inclusive pack

Ready Together

Ready Together Emergency Preparedness Training Pilot Launched

In September 2023, HSEM unveiled a new community resource. Ready Together: The Basics of Emergency Preparedness for You, Your Family & Your Neighborhood is a two-hour training course developed in partnership with Austin Watershed Protection Department, Ascension Seton, Go Austin/Vamos Austin, Office of Resilience, University of Texas Medical Reserve Corps, and Austin Fire Department. 
This free, 2-hour course provided a new opportunity for people to proactively prepare themselves in advance of an emergency. The class is open to all community members, regardless of preparedness knowledge as the course provides an introduction from experts on how to practice the four steps of emergency preparedness. Attendees gain practical knowledge on how to prepare their home, family, and community for a variety of hazards. Ready Together launched as a pilot program, and after a successful class in September four courses were scheduled in 2024 to make this a quarterly offering. 

Spanish Preparedness Guide

Neighborhood Preparedness Guide: Spanish Edition 

HSEM is committed to improving access to emergency information for all members of our community. In 2023, we unveiled the Spanish edition of the Neighborhood Preparedness Guide to ensure greater access to access life-saving emergency preparedness resources.  
The guide is a resource to help individuals, families and neighborhoods make an emergency plan. Making a plan is one of the four steps to emergency preparedness. Physical copies of the Spanish versions are available at the monthly Emergency Preparedness Pop-Up Events and for digital download on ReadyCentralTexas.org. 

Heat Preparedness Education at Juneteenth 

HSEM participated in the Juneteenth celebration at the Austin Community College East Branch. This event gave HSEM the opportunity to talk with community members and organizations about the dangers of heat and other weather hazards. Students stopped by to chat about their experiences with storms and what they learned and want to learn for the next weather emergency.  
Heat Preparedness Education at Juneteenth

Emergency Operations Center Training

Monthly Emergency Operations Center Training for City Staff

HSEM offers monthly Emergency Operations Center (EOC) trainings for all EOC Representatives. EOC representatives are designated professionals who, during an emergency activation, will be deployed to the EOC. In 2023, 45 new students were trained.

Regional PIO Network for Professional Development and Disaster Response  

Austin HSEM co-manages the Regional Incident Communications Conference Line (RICCL). The RICCL serves as a tool for coordinating multi-jurisdictional emergency response. It is made up of a network of public information professionals across Central Texas. The RICCL began meeting in person again in FY23 to cross-train, network, and share best practices among Public Information Officers across the region. The RICCL brings communications and public information professionals together from a broad spectrum of organizations, including Central Texas municipalities, counties, and schools, colleges and universities. 
This resource allows over 140 communications professionals in the RICCL to be informed, prepared, and ready to work together before, during and after an emergency.

Riccl Meeting

Public Information officers sitting learning

Liaison Officer & Public Information Officer Training for City Departments  

HSEM led citywide training for communications staff to serve in the Emergency Operations Center. In addition to offering ICS 100, 200, 700 and 800 through abridged in-person classes, HSEM also facilitated specialized EOC training for public information specialists, community engagement specialists and other marketing and public information roles. Advanced training to build bench strength for Lead PIOs was also offered to more tenured communications professionals. In total, over 100 communications staff were trained to support public information functions during an emergency. 
HSEM also led training to increase coordination between departments with Department Operations Centers and the City Manager’s Office. Liaison Officer training was provided to the City Manager’s Office representatives, Austin Water, Austin Energy, and Aviation.  

Image of ACL
HSEM collaborates with public safety partners for special events in Austin and Travis County.  In FY 2023, HSEM developed 287 Interoperability Incident Radio Communications Plans that spanned 558 days of special events. 
HSEM supports set up and management of Event Operations Centers (EVOCs) for extended events like South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL), and Formula 1 Races (F1). 
 HSEM shares information about these special events with the US Department of Homeland Security to determine the jurisdiction's SEAR rating. The Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) serves as a tool to evaluate the level of threat associated with each event. These ratings, in turn, open avenues for federal support and funding opportunities at the local level. 

Table Top Exercise
Table Top Exercise
Table Top Exercise
Part of being prepared for an emergency, or planned special event, is practicing for them. Austin HSEM ensures staff from across the City and County are ready to respond by conducting multiple tabletop exercises throughout the year. 

During these exercises, staff are run through hypothetical scenarios designed to prepare them for the decision-making needed to execute a timely and proper response to an emergency, as well as test the plans and procedures the City uses in these types of events. 

Preceding major special events, tabletop planning exercises were conducted to strengthen critical incident response capabilities. The objective of these tabletop exercises during special events is to ensure a clear understanding of everyone's responsibilities in case of an emergency. Among the notable events supported are South by Southwest Festival (SXSW), Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL), Major League Soccer at Q2 Stadium (MLS), and Formula One.
In addition to planned special events, HSEM hosted tabletop exercises for winter weather executives from City of Austin, Travis County, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin ISD, and Austin Community College.  

GIS Mapping

Increased GIS Mapping Capabilities and Development of GIS Response Team 

HSEM has reinvigorated the Emergency Operations Center’s (EOC) ability to access maps and map data with refreshed geographical information system (GIS) capabilities and increased GIS Emergency Response Team (GISERT) membership. The GISERT comprises skilled GIS professionals from the City of Austin who are prepared to offer interagency GIS support during emergencies. Their primary objective is to assist decision makers by providing timely and accurate geospatial information. During EOC activations, GISERT aids the EOC by furnishing geospatial support and maps. 
Adhering to the City of Austin's all-hazards approach to disaster management, GISERT assesses challenges and formulates strategies for efficient GIS utilization during emergencies. The team is responsible for developing and maintaining GIS project files, creating and managing geospatial datasets for emergency operations, ensuring data compatibility across departments, periodically reviewing and updating the GIS Strategic Operations Plan, and responding to the EOC to support emergency operations. 

Warn Central Texas Logo
Ready Central Texas

Warn Central Texas Process Improvements for Faster Response 

The Warn Central Texas alert system is a powerful tool that Austin HSEM and public safety departments can use to inform the public. 
Austin HSEM initiated a process to streamline how alerts are created and distributed to the public via the Warn Central Texas system. Beginning in 2023, to prepare for wildfire season, Austin HSEM worked with AFD-Wildfire and other city, county, and regional partners to make Warn Central Texas messages clearer, more accessible, and faster to deploy in the event of an emergency. When minutes count, and clarity is essential, Central Texans can now get emergency alerts sooner—and take safety precautions more quickly. 

A Refreshed Digital Emergency Preparedness Hub: ReadyCentralTexas.org

HSEM redesigned its digital emergency preparedness hub ReadyCentralTexas.org. The newly redesigned website serves a one stop shop for emergency preparedness resources. Being prepared in advance of an emergency or disaster can have a positive impact on the community’s safety during an event and ability to recover afterward. Using this site will help Austinites know how to prepare homes and neighborhoods before an emergency.  

The new design highlights the most frequent disasters seen in the Central Texas region and how to prepare for them. Viewers will find preparedness resources for Winter Weather, Extreme Heat, Severe Weather, Wildfire, and other hazards. New resources on the site also outline the state and federal recovery and reimbursement resources, complete with videos in English and Spanish. Users can also find go kit and shelter in place supply check lists in 14 languages.  

Warming Centers

Launched Warming Center and Cooling Center Map

As the City faced an extreme heat wave and severe drought in Summer 2023, HSEM developed a Cooling Centers Map using Google Maps with the location and hours of operation for facilities being used as Cooling Centers. The map was housed on the Emergency Alerts webpage at austintexas.gov/alerts during the summer months, where information is translated into 14 languages. The map allowed users to get directions to a Cooling Center near them in just a few clicks. 
After receiving positive feedback and seeing more than 50,000 views online, HSEM designed a similar map for Warming Centers to use during the winter months. With this tool, community members and visitors can locate and get directions to a place to get warm during regular business hours.

Sitting Aroung a Desk Talking about Language

Updated HSEM Language Access Plan

Austin HSEM updated the department's Language Access Plan so that community members can get information through the Alerts webpage through a more streamlined process in 14 different languages.  

Information regarding emergencies is available at austintexas.gov/alerts. Messages are posted in 13 languages as well as videos in American Sign Language provided through the Accessible Hazard Alert System. 

HSEM translates emergency information into threshold languages. Threshold languages are determined using data from the 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) or US Census data, Austin Police Department (APD), Austin Public Health (APH), Austin Municipal Court, Austin Independent School District (AISD), Capital Metro, Caritas of Austin, Refugee Services of Texas, and Casa Marinella. The City of Austin determines that a language is a priority language when there are 1000 or more people in the population who reported to, "speak English less than very well" in the American Community Survey (ACS) data or US Census. The City updates its data and recommended languages every three years, and the Alerts webpage was updated in concert. 

By updating these threshold languages on the Alerts webpage, community members can get important life-saving information in the languages they need. This year, the languages Tigrinya, Swahili, and Nepali, were added to the Alerts page reflecting the growing, changing population in Austin and Central Texas. 

Accessible Hazard Alert System


Ready Central Texas App

Ready central Texas App
Austin HSEM and the Travis County Office of Emergency Management launched the Accessible Hazard Alert System (AHAS) for Deaf, Blind, Hard of Hearing, or Deaf and Blind community. 

AHAS subscribers receive an accessible message in American Sign Language, and English voice and text. The alert message will include information about the emergency and what actions to take. AHAS can send accessible alerting messages to registered residents before, during, and after an emergency or disaster in Austin and Travis County. 
When an emergency alert or other information is sent through the AHAS program, users will receive accessible alert messages on internet and video capable devices such as computers, cell phones, smart phones, tablet computers, and wireless Braille readers. 
Austin HSEM partnered with Travis County Emergency Management to develop the Ready Central Texas app for mobile devices. This app is utilized as an emergency preparedness app with updates and news regarding warnings, preparedness resources, emergency plan checklists, a document library, and more. 
HSEM can let app users know about crucial updates or information regarding an on-going crisis or disaster. The app is available on Android and Apple devices and free to download and use. 

New Languages Added to Alerts Webpage

HSEM’s Alerts webpage was updated with new threshold languages including Tigrinya, Swahili, and Nepali in FY23. This webpage is the place to go for up-to-date official information from the City during an emergency. Warnings, updates, instructions, resources, immediate actions you should take, and recovery information are all posted in 14 languages to AustinTexas.gov/alerts. The Alerts webpage helps keep our community safe in an emergency,
Be sure to bookmark the page for quick reference during a crisis.
Alerts Page

Department Growth and Service

In FY23, HSEM started changing how we prepare for emergencies. We will continue to increase staffing, training, plan updates, and public resources. In the coming year, HSEM will further structural improvements to the department. Our priority of preparedness education and outreach will continue because as the climate changes, so do our emergency plans. Let's get ready together!