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Local Government Vs the 2021 Texas Winter Storm

It’s been a doozy of a week here in Texas. That’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one. Nobody knew what was in store. It had been 30-plus-years since the last winter storm of this magnitude. Millions had their lives turned upside down. In my world, it turned out to be local government versus the Texas winter storm of 2021.

I live more than 500 miles deep in the heart of Texas, about four-fifths of the way to the mid-Gulf Coast from our northern border. Being that far south didn’t matter. The storm came roaring through Seguin, Texas late on President’s Day and didn’t let up all week. As a native Texan born and raised, that simply does not happen in my neck of the woods.

Millions Impacted

Growing up in East Texas, I’ve seen it snow a couple of times. You bundle up, throw a few snowballs at each other and the next day it’s gone. Not the case this past week. It was significantly more than that, unfortunately so for many of my fellow Texans.

Millions were without power. Nearly 12 million were affected by concerns regarding water quality. Many had no water at all. Pipes burst. Some had to vacate their homes as a result. Countless Texans had to seek shelter elsewhere.

Firing on All Cylinders

As a local government employee, I had insight into what was happening throughout the event. The city technically shut down for the week, but not really.

Daily briefings were held to ensure respective departments were operating on the same page. Communication was constant. City staff stepped up as they always do. Public safety, utility workers, public works and facility employees were the champions out on the front lines combatting the storm head-on.

911 dispatch employees slept at their facility between shifts. Our emergency management coordinator bought extra bottles of oxygen to distribute to citizens just in case.

Seguin’s city manager was out checking on folks and keeping our mayor and city council updated on what was going on. Our public information officer was all over social media ensuring citizens were updated as best as possible. Lights were shut down at facilities not in use to conserve power.

Stronger Together

Seguin, Texas is fortunate to have a strong industry presence. The city worked with the local water bottling plant to have water donated to a neighboring town’s hospital that was in dire need. Despite the unsafe conditions, our police chief delivered the water in his personal truck.

Later in the week, a water station was set up for citizens that had gone without for days to come by and fill up containers. Our own hospital had a major water leak that the city assisted with.

Due to the freeze, a solenoid went out on a generator at our wastewater treatment plant. Once again, city staff worked with another large manufacturer in town who donated the part to help avoid a sewage spill.

Utility crews were out in the frigid weather repairing multiple water main breaks and frozen electric distribution equipment. Our emergency operations center was initiated to manage incoming communication to keep power and water flowing to folks as best we could. We donated spare generators to another neighboring municipality that needed assistance.

Behind the Scenes

The technology in the city held up, but IT had to do a little running around when battery backups began to fail. We worked with communications to ensure the main phone lines had updated messaging.

Critical SCADA data transmission had to be brought back online due to the lengthy power outages. Thankfully, our new radio systems infrastructure held up like a champ. It was needed.

The city of Seguin, Texas has already begun working on relief plans for citizens who will experience larger bills due to broken pipes and electrical issues. These are the stories most will not hear about, but they happened.

They are still happening now as the temperatures creep back up to normal and we return to our pseudo form of normalcy. We are still in a pandemic after all.

Seguin Strong and Texas Tough

Here’s what I know. What I witnessed was our community stepping up big time. They always do. I suspect this was happening behind the scenes all over the state. That’s what local government does.

I am filled with a sense of pride in seeing the various parts of our community come together in a time of need. It’s an honor to provide the technology needed so staff can take care of our community safely and efficiently.

Community Impact

I wrote about the impact of working in local government a few weeks back. The winter storm that rolled through this week – and the response necessary – is the perfect representation of that stated impact.

Earlier this month, I saw our community unite when we held our first COVID-19 immunization event. From the management of the event, the volunteers and the support locally, it was amazing.

Nobody could have guessed we’d had to reconvene again so quickly for an emergency. It was truly a remarkable display of unity and perseverance – again. You thought a big winter storm could hold us down? C’mon folks, this is Texas. Y’all know how we do things around here.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Shane “El Jefe” McDaniel is the first Director of Information Technology for the city of Seguin, Texas, with more than 24 years of experience across multiple IT disciplines. He began his technology career in 1996 through an enlistment in the Air Force supporting military intelligence, subsequently transitioning to NSA, NRO, private industry and municipal government technology operations. Shane is the proprietor and champion of Country IT, running the countryexec.com website promoting personal and professional development for future leaders. You can find him on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.

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Edward J. McDonough

Thank you or the great work you are doing in such a horrible situation. I would point out, though, that based on much of what I have read, not only did this happen more than 30 years ago, but it happened AGAIN in 2011 and the same recommendations were made about the resilience of the Texas power grid both times. You state leaders have failed you miserably.

Avatar photo Kelly Brown

Thank you so much for sharing. People outside of government often don’t realize what it means when a city technically shuts down, but actually doesn’t. This behind-the-scenes look at how your government marched on is terrific. I hope that the circumstances for everyone there improve quickly and completely.