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Thank You SSN Groups

Sometimes it seems like we all scurry about for most of our lives. The politics, games, gluttony, maneuvering, manipulation and acquisition of things is a fantastic distraction. If not careful we can get so caught up that it completely disconnects us from what really matters.

There are times in all of our lives when critical things happen. Birth and death, tragedy and events that cause intense joy give us an opportunity to touch something real. One of the most important things we can tap into is the opportunity to be present and supportive when others are going through these critical junctures in their lives. There’s always a reason that we can’t be there, always something that seems more critical. But if we take a moment to weigh the options there are few things that truly take precedence in the big picture. Unfortunately, many people and organizations miss these opportunities because we are scurrying around dealing with whatever it is that we’re so busy doing all the time that we don’t really remember afterwards.

I would like to acknowledge a few groups that made it a point to be there when it was most needed. First is the Jesse Tree, with its wonderful group of volunteers and too few paid staff members. The Jesse Tree has worked against insurmountable odds to keep their doors open and continue to serve a variety of populations with no other recourse. It’s a true calling for them and it’s been an inspiration and honor to work alongside them. The Jesse Tree/Beach Patrol Survivor Support has been busy this year and responded to a number of tragic drowning deaths and aquatic accidents. But they haven’t had to go it alone.

Thank you to several Galveston businesses and volunteers for their commitment and support.

There were many hotels. The Red Roof Inn at 5914 Seawall Blvd were there with rooms and meeting spaces and more for multiple events. The Commodore on the Beach Hotel, 3618 Seawall Blvd., Four Points by Sheraton, 2300 Seawall Blvd., Gaido’s Seaside Inn, 3700 Seawall Blvd., Best Western Plus Seawall Inn & Suites by the Beach, 102 Seawall Blvd. all came forward when most needed at no benefit to themselves.

In several of these situations a gathering room was provided for large groups of family members so they could have a place to commune during a search which lasted days. Rooms were provided for sleeping as well. But when people are grieving its critical to make sure both body and spirit are nourished. Restaurants such as Tortuga’s at 6010 Seawall Blvd and The Float Pool and Patio Bar at 2828 Seawall Blvd volunteered food, as did the Lighthouse Charity Cooking Team.

Support also came from the Galveston County Emergency Response Team, who searched tirelessly, and from EZ Bike Rental at 4712 Seawall Blvd and Galveston Real Estate Resource.

Anyone interested in supporting and/or participating with The Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, please call Sheila Savage at 409-771-2545.

All of these groups honor our community and represent the best in and of us.

1900 Storm

By the time 1900 rolled around, Galveston was the undisputed cultural and recreational center of this part of the country. Almost 500 bars and 50 brothels put it on par with the historically raucous New Orleans, and it ranked 2nd in the country for cotton exports and 3rd in wheat. Dredging ensured a constant flow of vessels in its deep water port and beautiful mansions lined Broadway, which at 9 feet of elevation was the highest street at the time.

Brothers Isaac and Joseph Cline ran the Galveston office of the National Weather Service and did their best to warn people of the upcoming storm, although they did not have the early detection systems we enjoy today. With only three ways off the island, 3 railroad bridges and one wagon bridge, it would have made little difference anyway.

We all know the story, or at least parts of it. On September 8th the island was battered by 120 mile winds and a storm surge of 15.7 feet. Isaac’s wife took refuge in the Cline house with a crowd and a streetcar came loose in the floodwaters and demolished the house. Her body wasn’t found for two weeks. The first six blocks on the beach side was completely cleared of buildings. 90 orphans and 10 nuns died when the roof of the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum collapsed. Over 6,000 people died on the island, and the total death toll was around 10,000 as the big storm lumbered all the way up to Canada. The morning after the storm many of those who survived had been clinging to floating wreckage for hours as they watched loved ones crushed and mangled all around them throughout the night. At first light they found a 30 block pile of debris comprised of parts of houses, businesses, as well as animal and human carcasses. Bodies were collected, weighted down, and sent off on rafts. They then floated back days later, bloated and almost unrecognizable. The task of burning the thousands of bodies was assigned to African American workers, often at gunpoint, which no doubt added to the increasing racial tension during this era of Jim Crow.

But, somehow we recovered. With the help of volunteers from Houston, the Red Cross, US Army, and Salvation Army, we cleaned up and started rebuilding. A new commission-style municipal government got things done. We built the first section of the seawall, raising parts of the island as high as 17 feet, deposited 500 city blocks of landfill, built a two mile concrete causeway, and made numerous improvements to the wharves.

At the recent kickoff for the large beach re-nourishment projects, Jerry Patterson described Galvestonians as being “resilient”. It’s hard to imagine us doing something of the magnitude of our forefathers. Often we seem to argue more than build. This project is, however, very encouraging. I wonder if this is a portent.

With the 1900 storm as our shared mythology and a beacon to what potential we as Galvestonians possess, who knows what we’re capable of?

 

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Winter Is Here

Water temperature in the 50’s is a game changer. Even our hard core surfers don’t last long with the 3 millimeter wetsuits most Texans wear, and the only swimmers we encounter seem to be Russian or Canadian.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and got to spend time with people they care about. This is always a great time to reflect on things we’re grateful for. I personally feel really appreciative of the hard work our staff did this season, the support of all the groups we work with and the community of Galveston, and the chance to slow down for a bit, recharge the batteries, and fill in some details that we couldn’t get to during the busy season.

We’re almost at the end of our patrol season with this weekend being the last where we’re proactively out there checking the beaches for a while. Most of our crew has been working hard refurbishing our 28 lifeguard towers while alternating the days they take a patrol shift. They’ve also been doing one last pass of replacement and repair of the 300 or so signs we maintain along 33 miles of beachfront. But starting December 1st everyone will focus on finishing the towers up so they can spend the remaining time until everyone is able to work on individual projects.

Each of our full time supervisors has an area of responsibility that they take full charge of. There is a window of time from late December until March 1st when they have time to get the bulk of this work done. Some of the areas are board and craft repair/maintenance, website upgrades, virtual lifeguard museum, recruiting/water safety video projects, policy and procedure manual updates, training material preparation, and ordering supplies and equipment.

One major change we are trying to make is to move to an almost completely paperless system. We recently purchased computers for each vehicle so reports can be done while overseeing a zone of responsibility. We’re getting close to purchasing an electronic records management system for storage and easy retrieval of reports and other documents. My hope is that by 2016 we can operate with 90% digital files and documents.

There’s an upcoming event that I wanted to mention. We’ll follow up with more details, but the annual public safety Christmas parade is scheduled for Saturday, December 13th in the morning. This event has been growing and has been a fun X-mas holiday kick off. It’s been a nice way for first responders from different agencies to show our community how appreciative we are for the support we receive. Also it’s an opportunity for the community to show support for everything these hard working public safety organizations’ men and women do.

From all of us at the Galveston Beach Patrol we hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. Hopefully you’ll have the time and opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the things and people that are most important to you.

The System

There’s been quite a bit of talk lately about the relationship between the city and the Park Board. When the Park Board was originally formed, it was intended to be a vehicle for tourism management. The beach, being Galveston’s primary attraction and driver of tourism, was a big part of that equation. It’s tough to talk about the relationship between the city and Park Board without including the management of the beaches, namely Beach Patrol, Beach Maintenance, and Beach Parks Departments. No matter how nice the attractions, hotels, and restaurants on the island may be, they would have a tough time staying afloat if they were located in the desert.

Making sure the beach is clean and safe is an integral part of the tourist experience. If there was a general perception that the beaches were not well maintained and well protected, tourists would not come in the numbers they do now. If they didn’t visit the beach, they wouldn’t be on the island to stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, shop in stores, or visit any of the wonderful amenities the island has to offer. Creative and comprehensive advertising is important, but it only works for the long term if you have a good product to promote. A clean and safe beach with decent amenities is the best advertising there is.

To make sure the beaches were managed properly, in the very early 80’s a highly intelligent group of people figured out a system that enabled us to have adequate resources to keep the beaches maintained and protected by a first class lifeguard outfit. Lifeguards and Beach Maintenance were moved under the Park Board of Trustees. Actually financial management fell under the Park Board but operational oversight of the Beach Patrol was moved from the Police Department to the Sheriff Department at the same time the funding source changed (Nowadays, the Beach Patrol is a mature organization and is an independent lifesaving and law enforcement entity). Using tourist dollars that came to the Park Board in the form of hotel tax (H.O.T.) monies and beach user fees guaranteed this independent funding source because the money came with the caveat that it could only be used for specific purposes. Beach Patrol received one penny for every dollar spent in the hotels.

When the first large beach nourishment project happened, Beach Patrol received an extra half a penny of hotel revenue to help cover the increase of beach use the new sand enabled. But a decade and a half ago, about a third of a penny (22% of the Beach Patrol’s H.O.T. allocation) was taken from Beach Patrol and Beach Maintenance to help build the Convention Center on the Seawall. How this affected the operational sustainability of both programs is another story, but the upside of using H.O.T. tax monies and beach user fees is that, in theory, as tourism grows the two programs could grow proportionally.

We all owe a lot to the group that designed this system.

 

Drowning Prevention for the City of Galveston

Swimming Safety- English

Swimming Safety- Spanish

 

For a downloadable version of the brochure, click here.

Community Pool

We don’t see a lot of children drown on the beach like you do in inland waterways, pools, drainage ditches, wells, etc. That’s why last weekend when we almost lost a 3 year old it shook us up. Fortunately the little girl was only under for a short time before parents, bystanders, and the area lifeguard were right on top of it. The guard started artificial respirations immediately and she ended up being OK after a couple of days in the hospital. No drowning is good and one involving a child is especially tough. We were happy to end a holiday weekend of very hard work and long hours with no drownings on the island. But there is much, much more to the chain of drowning prevention besides an effective lifeguard service.

The number one way to prevent drowning is to learn to swim. In the United States Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14. 70% of African American children, 60% of Hispanic children and 40% of Caucasian children cannot swim. We live on an island where no one is more than a mile and a half from water. Unfortunately it’s not the kind of water you can learn to swim in. In fact it’s really dangerous to try to teach a kid to swim in the beach or in open water. Unlike most of the cities in our area we have no public pool in which to teach swimming lessons or provide other aquatic programs in. According to USA Swimming, the risk of drowning drops 88% by participation in formal swimming lessons.

The good news is the most recent attempt to build a community pool is coming close to success. They have raised 1.7 million, which is almost half the needed funds and have 1.9 million to go (that’s only $50/person on the island).  They recently received a big challenge grant from the Moody Foundation and need to raise the balance to receive it.

In my opinion the plan is solid and choosing the site of Lasker Park is right on the mark. The city already owns the land. 69% of the kids on the island live within two miles of the site. There will be two pools, one a shallow walk-in pool with water features and slide. The other is a competitive eight lane pool. Programs will include swimming lessons, training for rescue teams, life guard training, water aerobics and swimming competitions, scuba classes and more; all of which will generate income.

Your help and support is needed to make the community pool a reality.  Donations of any size will help meet the Moody Foundation’s challenge grant.

Tax deductible gifts (checks or MasterCard or Visa) may be sent to Galveston Community Pool, c/o Barbara Sanderson, Director, Parks and Recreation, McGuire Dent Recreation Center, 2222 28th St, Galveston, TX 77550.  Phone: 409-621-3177.

This is the same community that elevated the island and built the seawall. A pool should be easy if we all pitch in.

 

Community Swimming Pool

Oil Spill

Since the oil spill, life has been a blur of meetings, reports, surveys, and passing endless streams of information both up and down the chain of command.

The typical day for me has been to wake up at 4:45 and get to the joint command at the convention center by about 5:50. After checking in, I’d have a quick chat with Charley Kelly and Rosana Beharry from our city Emergency Operation Center to talk about what transpired during the evening the day before and the night. The morning briefing precedes smaller meetings, writing reports and sending them out, surveying beaches, getting input from beach cleaning and park staff and passing that back to the unified command.

Charley and Rosana have been been pulling 12hour shifts in the command center, along with representatives from the Coast Guard, GLO, wildlife recovery groups, NOAA, the responsible party and others. When not on their designated shifts, they’ve been in contact when issues arise, which has been basically 24 hours a day.

Charley and Rosana have represented all of our interests very well, but they are not alone in this level of dedication. The entire command center, which vaguely resembles the NASA control room, is divided up into groups overseeing operations, resource procurement, finance, command, wildlife, environmental testing, liaison, media relations etc. Each person in each group has worked untold hours at breakneck speed to handle this complicated event as it unfolded. All of this has been orchestrated using the guidelines of the national incident management system. Each person and group knows their specific role and how to interface in the most efficient way with the whole. All the information relevant to the city funneled through our local emergency operation coordinators to the appropriate groups. Since the beaches and some parks were impacted, much of this went through me to various departments of the Park Board.

The Park Board Beach Maintenance and Parks staff has been invaluable in surveying and reporting developments, as has been my staff. I’ve been so thankful for all they’ve done as well as city staff and the Tourism and Development and Administrative Departments of the Park Board. But I’d expect that from locals that have so much invested in our beaches, parks and tourism. What I didn’t expect is the response from all the different groups that came here to help.

As of Tuesday, over 15,000 workers have recovered 5,515.5 barrels of mixed oil and water, 116,304 bags of oily solids, and 672.87 barrels of decanted oil. Volunteers and professionals have captured, rehabbed, or recovered 578 animals. Countless volunteers have been checking the beaches, orchestrated by the Galveston Bay Foundation.

It’s been a humbling experience to see so many dedicated people work so hard.  The Coast Guard has done an amazing job coordinating everything and the responsible party has really stepped up. The speed, efficiency, and commitment of all the responding parties not only deserves our gratitude but, for me, has renewed faith in our capacity to dedicate ourselves to a cause that supports others and the environment.

Institutional Memory

Galveston city and county have a history of resilience. Despite our mercurial weather and politics we somehow manage to pull together when we need to. Many of those of us living here now have ancestors that rebuilt the city after the 1900 storm and erected the physical embodiment of that resilience and willingness to take on seemingly insurmountable tasks together when needed.

Only a few years back we once again proved that those qualities are still just as strong when we worked together to rebuild our communities after Hurricane Ike. We couldn’t have gotten as far as we have so quickly without governmental help, but much of that recovery happened by neighbors helping neighbors.

The wounds left by Hurricane Ike are diminishing, although we have a long way still to go before the physical and psychological damage is healed. Enough time, however, has passed that we’re already losing some of the institutional memory that our decision makers from that time had. How do we, as a community, keep the myriad of lessons learned despite the changes in city leadership and as people in key roles from that experience cycle out?

In a very forward thinking move, many of our city and county leaders attended an emergency management course at the FEMA training center in Emmetsburg, Maryland last week. It says a lot about the current leadership that they realized the importance of taking all of these busy, important people away from their duties for an entire week with the purpose of preparing them for how to deal with all stages of a catastrophic event, from emergency response all the way through debris management, restoring infrastructure and financial and psychological recovery.

The course itself was intense and even included three “table top” exercises that lasted several hours where we had to work together to address different problems that arose. A central theme that was repeatedly stressed was the importance of relationships and communication in getting a jump on both the response and recovery phase. It helped that we were locked into a compound in the middle of a blizzard! What little time was spent out of class was spent together continuing course discussions.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a group of Beach Patrol supervisors were taking their own course in disaster response. Kara Harrison, Josh Hale, Mary Stewart, and Kris Pompa went through a grueling swift water/urban flooding course in San Marcos. They spend 4 long days and one night in wetsuits learning swift water rescue techniques, search and recovery, and how to respond during a flood. This meets a goal we’ve been working on for some time on the Beach Patrol. We now have every full time member certified as a “Swift Water Rescue Technician”, which will prove invaluable to our community when we have our next flooding incident.

We don’t know when but we all know there will be another big one. The challenge is to keep the skills and institutional knowledge ready for that eventuality. Being prepared takes work, commitment, resources, and community buy in, but it’s essential.

IMG_1071

Tommy Lee of GEMS and Peter Davis of GIBP at FEMA training camp in Maryland, 2014.