Flood preparations underway ahead of severe weather threat

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Before the clouds give way to rain, the Austin Fire Department‘s flood preparations are already underway.

Ahead of Thursday’s severe weather threat, nine swift water rescue crews spread out across the city. Five rescue boats are ready to go in case of a flash flood emergency.

“We have the resources here ready to respond,” said Palmer Buck, Austin Fire Department battalion chief. “We want to make sure we staff them appropriately.”

Earlier this week, the public safety commission put Austin’s public safety leaders on the hot seat because of the emergency response to last fall’s deadly floods. Leaders from police, fire and emergency management service all told the commission there are things they could have done better to protect people.

Since last fall, the fire department has reorganized the special operations group to spread out resources. During severe weather events now, six trained swift water technicians staff five stations across the city equipped with boats. More boats can come from EMS and Starflight. The department also trained 50 new swift water rescuers.

In high water situations, AFD turns to its brush fire trucks which have a higher clearance and allow rescuers to navigate flooded roadways. They can staff those vehicles in as little as 30 minutes. The process used to take upwards of three hours.

AFD will also ramp up rescue crew staffing when severe weather is predicted, a plan that came from recommendations put together as a result of the 2013 Halloween Flood report.

The public safety commission meeting brought up going a step further by creating a Blue Flag Warning to ramp up preparedness ahead of potential flash flooding.

“Analogous to what we call a red flag day when we have conditions ripe for wildfires when we staff up our trucks, we’d do the same thing with impeding flooding events,” said Buck.

While still in the works, the idea is to stay a step ahead in flash flood alley.

“In the past several years we’ve learned we’re a lot better by leaning forward, by being proactive,” said Buck.

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