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What happens when the unexpected does?

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 21 July 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2527

Peaks Park across a major highway from the Upper Brushy Creek Water Improvement District’s Dam 6. The scenario included lots of rain, and the water in the reservoir was rising.  I, as a commissioner, allegedly began receiving calls from citizens in the apartments by the reservoir stating that the water was about to breach the dam. What would be my response (action) be? 

Of course, I was to call emergency management and relay the information from the constituents. I was not responsible for evacuating people nor calling off the 5K. So at the appointed time, I called the emergency management director’s landline, but there was no response. I waited 10 minutes, there was still no response. Hmm? Were they actually testing me? What was my contingency plan for this? I called our county engineer on his cell phone – using the number I actually had in my phone. Lo, and behold, he answered. Coincidentally, at that precise moment, he and the director of Wilco’s Emergency Management were on-site at the cave-in that occurred overnight in Cat Hollow (an area in the Brushy Creek MUD). A real emergency! I’ve since added every director’s cell phone into my phone’s directory.

Life certainly has its twists and turns. Of course, my staff and I took off to see this spectacle, which was then in my precinct. It was a huge opening in Cambria Drive just south of Ephraim Road.  The cave-in’s cause was speculative, but it showed that the cave ceiling was just below the base of the road. Construction had just missed discovery back in the 1970s. On one side of the opening was a waterline, broken open by the debris as it fell 20 feet to the bottom of the large cave opening. On the other side of the opening was a natural gas line – unharmed. The Brushy Creek MUD staff had quickly turned off the water. Now the county was facing an unexpected impact on our fiscal year 2017 budget and rapid response for safe repairs to reopen Cambria. Investigations showed cave chambers extending under three of the homes and under Ephraim road.

Caves are nothing new to areas west of Interstate 35 but are usually discovered during construction of roads, homes, schools and businesses. This one revealed itself after many years.

For those of us in local governments, these diversions are frequent and diverse. Curve balls coming at us from all directions.

Disease: My time as commissioner included the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic we all endured. Life as we knew it had to change in our collective efforts to contain it and stay free of it.

Weather events: always something in Central Texas. My tenure has included Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and dispatching many first responders to help with recovery, and the 2022 tornadoes causing extensive damage. We faced challenged during the historic winter freeze in 2021 like acquiring and distributing diesel fuel and water, providing heated shelters for people and establishing points of power for charging phones and oxygen concentrators, to transporting people in snow and ice to dialysis clinics with power, forcing local governments to operate overtime. Now we face extreme drought and heat. Where will it take us?

Human-induced issues: There was that bomber who chose to spend a night in Round Rock’s Red Roof Inn, also in my precinct, and then drove down the I-35 frontage road followed by law enforcement who forced him onto the shoulder where he exploded a bomb and self-destructed. Fortunately, no law enforcement officer was injured, and the public was safe. Of course, the unexpected is constant in the lives of first responders; they train for this. Then we faced the city of Austin water treatment plant disaster in February, impacting hundreds of our county residents on Austin water that compelled us to distribute water from Kelly-Reeves Athletic Field’s parking lot. I worked over eight hours lifting water cases and figuring out how to open tailgates (so many ways).

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