As thousands of Texans still strive to rebound from the damage and destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has been working with community leaders and local, state and national agencies to identify and address recovery needs.
“Many people are already aware of our initial efforts in disaster recovery, especially establishing Animal Supply Points, helping with area cleanups and serving the immediate needs of Texans after a disaster,” said Dr. Monty Dozier, AgriLife Extension special assistant for Rebuild Texas, College Station.
But that role has now evolved through its efforts in support of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, Dozier said.
As part of the statewide effort to help Texans recover from Hurricane Harvey, last September Gov. Greg Abbott asked Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp to coordinate state and local recovery efforts of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas. Sharp tasked employees of AgriLife Extension to serve as his local liaisons with the impacted communities, reporting on local recovery needs and providing a pipeline for information and recovery resources.
“I knew from the beginning of our efforts that we needed points of contact embedded in those impacted communities, a team that could be our eyes and ears for what was needed for recovery,” Sharp explained. “AgriLife Extension already has staff serving every county in this state, and I knew they would be our best tool for both monitoring recovery and ensuring issues don’t go unresolved.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, AgriLife Extension agents have been actively providing hands-on recovery assistance in addition to working with local authorities to help identify any unresolved issues associated with recovery efforts and report them to the governor’s commission.
While supporting Rebuild Texas efforts is an expanded role for the agency, AgriLife Extension executive associate director Dr. Susan Ballabina, College Station, said it demonstrates the agency’s depth of expertise and degree to which it will devote its resources to help Texans during this difficult time.
“The role of our agency in the Rebuild Texas effort now includes serving as a community liaison between local jurisdictions and state and federal agencies,” Dozier said. “Our agents work with county judges, mayors, school superintendents and other elected officials, community leaders and emergency management coordinators to help identify and resolve ongoing recovery issues.”
Dozier said AgriLife Extension personnel perform public assistance support toward various Federal Emergency Management Agency categories, including debris management, emergency protective measures, roads and bridges, water control facilities, building and equipment, utilities and services, and parks and recreation.
AgriLife Extension is also helping local jurisdictions complete and file the required paperwork for securing reimbursement from FEMA’s public assistance program.
“Completing and filing the necessary paperwork for financial reimbursement is an important aspect of post-disaster administration,” Dozier said. “We recruited employees from AgriLife Extension and the Texas Engineering Extension Service to receive training on FEMA’s public assistance reimbursement program. Then we sent Financial Technical Assistance Teams throughout the affected area as requested by jurisdiction to help with completing forms and data entry so they could receive reimbursement more quickly.”
AgriLife Extension personnel across the state also helped with cleanup efforts, supported displaced individuals and families, provided food and shelter for displaced livestock and pets, and helped resolve numerous disaster-related issues at the local level. They also provided information and assistance related to personal and family safety, as well as practical information and guidance on various aspects of disaster recovery.
As with previous disasters, one of the agency’s first efforts after Hurricane Harvey was to work with area farmers, ranchers, agricultural suppliers and others to establish Animal Supply Points to provide food and shelter for livestock and pets, he said.
“We had more than $1.3 million in hay and feed donations that came in to these ASPs thanks to the generosity of the people of Texas and of many other states,” said Dr. Jeff Ripley, AgriLife Extension associate director — county operations, College Station.
Some 120 agency personnel from across Texas were activated to provide support to the animal supply points, working with volunteers as well as staff from the Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture, U. S. Department of Agriculture and the military to distribute some 5,100 tons of hay, 530 tons of cattle cubes, 432 tons of horse feed, 451 tons of all-stock feed and 235 tons of pet food.
“We were also very concerned with another aspect of safety — the potential for contamination to private water wells as a result of flooding from Hurricane Harvey,” Dozier added. “To help private well owners determine if their well water contained contaminants such as fecal and coliform bacteria, the agency’s Texas Well Owner Network developed a water testing program for which FEMA provided funding.”
To date, some 1,195 private water wells have been tested for these contaminants.
The agency’s early efforts also focused on the safety needs of individuals and families displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Ballabina said. AgriLife Extension personnel, including Healthy Texas agents and specialists and local family and community health agents, prepared and distributed more than 3,500 personal hygiene kits to those affected. The kits included insect repellent, hand sanitizer and safety information, including information on food safety after a disaster and protection from mosquito-transmitted diseases.
AgriLife Extension family and community health specialists also responded to the immediate need to replace child safety seats from flooded vehicles, holding special events in impacted areas so families could obtain new safety seats on-site.
Dozier said AgriLife Extension’s agricultural economists helped determine the financial impact on agricultural producers, as well as to the agribusiness infrastructure in affected areas, and led efforts to assist agricultural producers affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“Those estimates indicated the state suffered about a $100 million in cotton losses and about $8 million in rice and soybean losses, with total livestock losses estimated at about $93 million,” he said.
In response, Dozier said, AgriLife Extension agents from the Texas Gulf Coast area coordinated with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency to host a series of emergency recovery meetings in affected counties to inform local agricultural producers how they might get emergency financial assistance to help them recover some of their losses.
Dozier said the agency will continue to be involved in a variety of recovery efforts throughout the Rebuild Texas effort.
“AgriLife Extension personnel will continue to serve as liaisons between local jurisdictions and state and federal agencies,” he said. “And we will help communities recovery from Harvey and work to be more resilient for future events.”
He said the agency also will continue to maintain and distribute timely disaster recovery information through the Texas Emergency and Disaster Education Network, or Texas EDEN, website at https://texashelp.tamu.edu/ and by other means.