Preparedness & Recovery

Hurricane Preparedness: A Q&A with DeWitt County's Emergency Management Coordinator, Cyndi Smith

'While we care about our residents, we will do the best we can. However, the governments are not going to pay for housing — they can’t..'

by Marina Starleaf Riker, Victoria Advocate, Texas / June 1, 2018
AP/David J. Phillip

(TNS) — What is the most important lesson you learned from Hurricane Harvey?

As a resident of Cuero and not the emergency management coordinator, it’s to be prepared and to listen. Be prepared, be sure you're receiving notifications and have a contact once you leave the area.

If another hurricane of the same magnitude was threatening the coast again this year, what would you do first and why? Do you have a hurricane preparedness kit?

As a resident of Cuero, not the emergency management coordinator, I will beginning June 1 be watching the storms, making sure my three-day supply is ready with food and water (and) that I have my go bag, which is my snacks and most important documents ready right at the front door. And I know where I’m evacuating to if I have to.

How long do you think it will take your community to fully recover from Harvey? How well do you think the state and federal governments have responded to the disaster?

DeWitt County was blessed with only 20 homes being flooded ... I don’t have a count on how many had roof damage.

Everybody thinks it's the federal government’s job to take care of us — it’s not. It’s our own job.

DeWitt County is basically recovered for the most part. There are still some homes affected. But then again, we are responsible for our homes, our insurance, and should not expect the federal government to always be there to bail us out.

Based on what you experienced with Harvey, would you stay in your home if another hurricane was threatening? Why or why not?

If another hurricane like Harvey hit Dewitt County, yes I would stay in my home. The only thing that was really affected by it was the aftermath flooding because even the houses did not flood until after Hurricane Harvey.

DeWitt County had more concerns with the river issue and people along the river issues than the hurricane winds.

Should the emergency operations center or Red Cross open a shelter in your county for people who have no means to evacuate if a storm is threatening? Why or why not? How else could the evacuation process be improved?

DeWitt county is not a shelter county with the exception of floods. As far as evacuations, that should be part of the preparedness that you make arrangements to be evacuated if you feel you need to leave the area.

DeWitt County is working with the state on different items for preparation for evacuations if an evacuation were to be needed, whether it's hurricane or something else.

We always work with our school district as far as using buses. However, because we're so far inland — I know it doesn't seem like it — but because of the location of DeWitt County, we may evacuate an area because of the flooding, but we did not call an evacuation due to the hurricane itself. And more than likely, we will not call for a hurricane evacuation. Our shelter is only for flooding, that’s what we’re more concerned about.

Based on everything you have experienced in the past eight months, what would you want to see changed in how emergency assistance is handled?

I'm actually going to workshops with the state and federal organizations. There are select people that are invited to this workshop — Victoria emergency management and DeWitt are both there along with surrounding counties.

We are trying to work to make things better. We’re trying to work with the Red Cross to ensure proper shelter operations and make sure all the supplies are in place before hurricane season.

Were also preparing our youth in DeWitt County through Team CERT — community emergency response teams.

We just had a team graduate in Yorktown two weeks ago, so I got now a total of 13 or 14 kids from Yorktown and Nordheim who are prepared and know how to help them. And we’re in the process of a class in Cuero now that I have 11 students, nine students and two adults. These high school kids that have stepped forward and said we want to learn more, we want to know how we can help our community.

We’re continually educating our whole community on emergency preparedness. We’ve had Skywarn, which is the National Weather Service class. We had that here in April and I plan to hold more Skywarn classes in the near future.

DeWitt County is constantly doing Facebook messages, holding classes, doing trainings. I go out to the Market Days and I pass out emergency hazard and hurricane preparedness information. I don't just hand it out, I explain it real quick.

A lot of people have come forward to help the Crossroads since the storm. What is the most meaningful to you?

It was the outpouring of "let me help — here’s some food to pass on to others."

What is the most important service that local government should work hard to provide immediately after a hurricane?


Information — what's available.

Although the citizens do pay taxes and do expect the government — local, county, state and federal to be there in the time of the disaster — all agencies are overwhelmed and the resources are not there. While we care about our residents, we will do the best we can. However, the governments are not going to pay for housing — they can’t.

You have to have a contingency plan or you have to plan for that disaster, whether it's going to family members, having the insurance or something like that. The government is not going to rebuild their house.

Marina reports on local government for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at mriker@vicad.com or 361-580-6511.

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