Travis County is urbanizing to the point where it could use professional full-time help communicating with its large and diverse constituency. The County’s Emergency Services Department is currently scheduled to bring an agenda item to the Commissioners Court on November 1, 2011, requesting authorization to hire a Public Information Officer (PIO). The Emergency Services Department proposes this PIO would work with the PIO in the Sheriff’s Office on a daily basis to push information out to the public regarding emergency preparedness and risk minimization, thus developing a single, reliable voice in times of emergency to whom folks can turn regarding threat assessments, evacuation, emergency water, food and shelter and other time-sensitive information. The Emergency Services PIO will also work with the Travis County Fire Marshal, Medical Examiner, STAR Flight, Emergency Medical Services and Parks.
In the past, the County has pushed information out to the public through various departments based on the nature of the emergency (flood, fire, drought, evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, etc.). Departments involved could include Emergency Services, Health and Human Services and any number of divisions within Transportation and Natural Resources. Added to this cacophony of informational conduits were the Sheriff’s Office, five Constable’s Offices and 13 separate Emergency Service Districts (none of which are under the supervision of the Commissioners Court).
Our recent experience with the Labor Day wildfires makes it abundantly clear that the County and its residents need a unified voice through which the most reliable information can be streamed in the most effective and timely manner (reverse 911, social media and all other tried-and-true methods of communication).
Of course, there is a cost to staffing for these communications. The Emergency Services Department currently has money in their budget to handle this cost. I believe the cost is warranted to increase the bodily safety and decrease the property loss at risk in emergencies. If you agree, please email your support to members of the Commissioners Court.