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Agencies Get Creative with New Emergency Special Response Unit

The Hidalgo County, Texas, Community Services Agency and the county emergency management agency sought to solve the problem if responding quickly to residents in need and collaborated to develop the trailer.

More than three years after a windstorm wreaked havoc in Hidalgo County, Texas, and after considerable contemplation, the county finally unveiled its Special Response Unit to go into areas ravaged by potential disaster and respond to the community’s needs.

The 30-foot trailer contains a generator, Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a bathroom, desk space, and is handicap accessible. The idea is that during a storm where residents lose power and are in need of services, a place to stay, etc., the Special Response Unit will roll on-scene, set up shop and begin to work toward bringing services to the community.

“It’s mobile, it’s quick and we don’t have to worry about borrowing generators or Wi-Fi or hot spots,” said Ricardo Saldaña, Hidalgo County emergency management coordinator. “Everything is built into it.” He said staff can immediately begin to find “a warm, comfortable atmosphere to make a family safe.”

That immediacy is the key. During a 2019 storm, a local community lost power and emergency management staff, along with the Hidalgo County Community Services Agency (CSA), sought to provide services. They found a building to set up, but the building had no power. They were able to get power but still had no Wi-Fi. Eventually Verizon provided a Cell on Wheels vehicle for Wi-Fi. But in all it took about a week. The same thing had happened during flooding caused in the area by Hurricane Harvey.

The trailer allows emergency management people and their partners at CSA to quickly move to different areas that need help without having to find a building that isn’t damaged and has power and Wi-Fi.

The idea started in 2016 during that windstorm, when CSA staff tried to respond to the vulnerable and low-income residents impacted by the storm. “We realized that families needed to be closer to home when they are affected by disaster,” CSA Executive Director Jaime Longoria told a local newspaper, The Monitor, recently.

Longoria and staff first converted an old trailer into a makeshift response unit to help get to the people in need more efficiently, but the trailer was lacking. “So, this became a dialog between that agency and our office to develop this response trailer,” Saldaña said.

“They devised it with some input from us. It can be used for a multitude of things, but most importantly going into those neighborhoods that are impacted by disaster,” Saldaña said. “It is self-sufficient [and] gives us everything we need to get those residents assistance quickly.”

The effort to devise the trailer to help residents was praised by Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs Director of External Affairs Michael Lyttle, who said more government entities should be so creative. “Government gets criticized a lot for not being creative or innovative,” he told The Monitor. 

The 30-foot trailer will be on display before the state emergency management team that requested to see it, Saldaña said. “Hopefully it can serve as a model for the state.”