Storm warning: We’re never prepared enough

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, June 19, 2019

To hear experts tell it, Greater Port Arthur is as prepared as possible in the event of a hurricane. Good news, three weeks into the hurricane season, which is upon us until November’s end.

Port Arthur city leaders hold great confidence in the word of Deputy Police Chief John Owens and they should. He’s the guy that everyone will turn toward when the wind begins to blow hard and dark clouds gather over the Gulf of Mexico.

Owens, who presented the professional staff’s hurricane preparedness assessment at this week’s City Council meeting, is one of many people who’ve weathered severe storms. He conceded as much to councilmembers when he pointed around the room to people who’ve sat in positions of authority in dire times, especially for storms as far back as Hurricane Rita in 2005.

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“We are prepared. I want everyone to know we are prepared,” Owens, a no-nonsense guy, told elected leaders. “I’m not tap dancing with you.”

No, he wouldn’t. He’s not the type of guy who’d even own tap-dancing shoes.

Since 2005, he said, coastal Texas has braved as many or more severe weather events than anyplace in the U.S. We have a wealth of experience in such situations, he said, which is a good thing looking ahead but a painful reminder of what storm seasons can bring. Port Arthur and its neighbors have survived the worst rain event in U.S. history. We know how bad it can be.

Here’s the good side: We have experience. We have a developed plan. We have developed and fostered good relations with local, state and national people who can provide relief. Our local first-responders are trained. We have ID’d temporary shelters. We’ve ID’d a site for taking debris. We’re putting out the word to advise preparation for residents in three languages: English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Yet there’s a long stretch of uncertain between being prepared and being cocksure about what a hurricane will do. Hurricanes are fearsome things, unpredictable, and they can confound even their most astute observers.

That’s what ought to put a shred of fear in us every June 1, when hurricane season opens. Fear is not always a bad thing.

It ought to make us diligent in doing all the right things, like assembling stocks of food and water and preparing for the well being of our pets. It ought to prod us to update our insurance policies and know our evacuation routes and how to tune in to warnings. It ought make us heed the best advice experts may lend us.

When we’ve done all of that, it ought to remind us that we live in coastal Texas, and when it comes to storms, we may be prepared, but we’re never prepared enough.